According to newrepublic.com, the average American college student had to work 390 hours at minimum wage to pay for a year of college in 1979. That’s a summer working a bit more than 30 hours a week, or a leisurely 10 hours per week during the school year. By contrast, a college student in 2017 would have to work 2200 hours, or a full time, 40 hour per week job, plus 120 extra hours throughout the year. Higher costs and lower wages have left the average 2016 graduate burdened with $37,000 in debt that is growing at a rate of 4.5 percent.This debt doubles every 14 years, and is inescapable even through bankruptcy, as reported by the US Department of Education.
Modern college students, particularly those in less lucrative majors, have zero margin for error financially and are guaranteed to graduate under a cloud of student debt. MSU needs a front-and-center financial literacy course either as a core requirement or a critical part of orientation to help keep its graduates on the narrow path toward solvency. The seeming immorality of carrying debt forms the bedrock of our moral language; the words “guilt” and “redemption” are derived directly from words signifying the presence or absence of debt. Being deeply in the red doesn’t just feel risky, it feels wrong. Crushing debts turn human beings into what anthropologist and historian David Graeber described as “pillagers, eyeing the world simply for what can be turned into money,” unable to slow down or leave a terminally unfulfilling career.
The inability to slow down for fear of being crushed by the ever-present and ever-growing weight of money owed takes an enormous psychological toll on those subjected to debt. The gnawing anxiety that poisons the quiet moments of modern life is generated by our indebted and precarious position. MSU students should be given every means possible to escape debt and its accompanying psychological toll. Barring a supernatural occurrence like an increase in federal funding or a multi-million-dollar donation without the accompanying requirement to erect a building named after the donor, MSU students will continue taking out large loans to fund their education. MSU graduates need the skills to create budgets, manage mortgage payments, and keep student loans and credit card debt to a manageable minimum.
Montana State requires students take a quick course before registering for classes at the same time they take Alcohol EDU, but it’s not in-depth enough to fulfill the needs of students. Events like the Fundamentals of Investing course held Sept. 20 through Oct. 11 and the wage negotiation workshop held Sept. 14 are a step in the right direction, but most students weren’t aware they had occurred. A basic financial literacy class beyond the short one as a freshman would help keep students in the black and soften the psychological blow of indebtedness.