A Mental Health Crisis Over Student Debt: What Does Our Education Cost?

This article is updated to include new policies by the Biden Administration. 

The American collective student debt is $1.3 trillion, second only to mortgages.  

“I never feel free,” said Gabriel Stewart, a graduate of Bay Area’s Expression College, on the $52,000 debt he accumulated over his two years there. “I’m living just to pay debt,” he dejectedly continues. The constant stress of having to pay off his loans limits his ability to start a family, own a home, buy a car, and ultimately, just live his life.

Between language barriers, navigating a new educational system, and pursuing the “American dream”, immigrants are primed for exploitation by for-profit colleges. My mother struggled, once arriving in the US, to get her own career up and running. For-profit College ads on TV enticed her into the possibility of a career and a better life. 

Andrea Campos felt deceived by the college system when, as a 19-year-old, she went to Heald College in Hayward and they signed her up for a loan with a high-interest rate. She thought this is what I have to do to get a good education and eventually have a well-paying job. Campos was the first in her family to attend college. Unfortunately, her journey ended with Heald College shutting down in her last year and she was left with no degree and debt collectors harassing her for loans. 

At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on March 5, 2021, Congressman Ro Khanna dredged into the history of college tuition. Prior to the Reagan administration, Californian education had been essentially free. Come 2021, rates of college tuition have been so high that the pursuit of higher education has decreased. 

A 2019 Hechinger Report article relayed the experience of one San Jose State University student who almost gave up on her degree and it wasn’t until the financial aid office offered her a grant, that she was able to complete her education. Less than 20% of her classmates graduated in 4 years, falling prey to the expense of college tuition – a rate lower than half the national average. The Californian education system took initiative and tried to provide its students a leg up but it’s not enough.

Currently, there is a media frenzy over Biden’s student loan plan. Bundled in the American Rescue Plan Act that passed on March 11th, was a segment that mentioned that COVID-19 student loan relief is tax-free for loans canceled between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2025. “For example, if your income-driven repayment plan becomes eligible for loan forgiveness in that time period, the amount of the loan that is discharged will not be included in the calculation of your gross income and you will not be taxed on the amount.” 

Congressman Khanna asserted that he didn’t find federally funded forgiveness with the stipulation of community service was necessary for federal loan forgiveness. Yet, Under Biden’s plan, which has not passed and is currently being debated, $10,000 of debt every year for five years will be forgiven if you perform eligible public service.

The idea that those struggling to make ends meet need to provide a service to get basic education is a fault to our communities. A misguided attempt to ease the minds of those who feel social welfare is “toxic” charity. The pitfall of student debt and privatized education is the adverse impact on the mental health of those subject to it. 

In one instance, Divya Singh, A Hofstra University student, was so overcome with anxiety about her tuition – that her parents could not afford – that she ended up hospitalized in response to it. Compounded with her hefty hospital bill, Divya felt the American education system had failed her. 

Divya Singh on the Hofstra University campus (Image by Kaiser Health News)
Divya Singh on the Hofstra University campus (Image by Kaiser Health News)

Though Biden’s plan would be significantly better than the current nonexistent one, it does not address Divya, Andrea, and Gabriel’s circumstances with private loans. Biden passed an executive order to reverse a Trump administration policy in March to deliver full loan forgiveness to 73,000 people and alleviate $1 billion in student debt for borrowers defrauded by for-profit colleges. This is a band-aid solution to a larger problem. Policies in America need to protect its future generations. Minority communities are particularly subjected to the worst of the education system –  lack of generational wealth positions them to seek federal and private loans. 

What does education cost our communities?

Push your Congresspeople to legislate bills that advocate for educational disparities, positive mental health outcomes, and most importantly, the student debt crisis. 


Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

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