Last Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the Occupy protests, a movement that reinvigorated the collegiate political landscape by putting student debt at the forefront of campus and national conversations.
It’s no secret that student debt has skyrocketed in recent years, surpassing total credit card debt as the largest collective sum of money owed by Americans. And with tuition costs rising at an average rate of 7.5 percent each year, it is unlikely that this number will decrease anytime soon.
As America witnessed in the Occupy protests, society increasingly frames student debt as an impediment to post-graduate success. Last year, thousands of students camped out in Zuccotti Park in New York City to call for the immediate absolution of all past and current student loans and a plan to eliminate student debt in the future.
Building off the expectations of peers, families and society itself, students use loans as scapegoats for failure after college. Many students complain that loans inhibit them from post-college success and claim that education is a universal right.
In reality, student loans are manifestations of the adult responsibilities that graduates should and will face after college.
The financial implications of graduating lend a sense of importance, significance and truth to a degree. Because of this, reducing tuition costs to an easily affordable level would result in a drastic decline in student effort, academic maturity and independent responsibility after graduation.
For most students, college is the first time that they are on their own. This freedom entails more than just living away from their parents and guardians — for many students, it means being cut off from continuous financial support.
Leasing apartments for the first time, balancing academics with outside work and recreational activities and learning through internship opportunities are key components of the college experience. These experiences aim to prepare students to be self-sustaining adults after graduation. Paying for tuition is a critical aspect of this framework, setting students up for an independent life by lending a sense of responsibility to school work.
When students have a vested financial interest in their education, they make smarter choices in college. Impetuous decisions become more significant — skipping a night of studying to go to The Row, neglecting to attend office hours or overspending on meals at Lemonade.
Americans — students or otherwise — who call for eliminating students’ financial responsibilities in college are ignoring the detrimental effect of the continuous dependency that would plague graduates. Besides, what would be used as the qualifier for ending student tuition aid? No two students’ academic paths are the same, and appropriating a fixed amount of financing per capita is not only fiscally irresponsible, but also unfair. The free market, in conjunction with college tuition rates, forces students to focus on their futures.
Medical school students rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition fees to finance close to a decade of education. The free market encourages these students to persevere by promising large salaries for academically strong and medically proficient students. Imagine what would happen if a medical student decided to drop out of school and travel the world, leaving a massive investment by the government behind. Americans would be stuck with a gigantic bill for the development of talent that could potentially go unutilized.
Underlying the entire student debt issue is the misguided premise that collegiate education is a universal human right. In truth, education is a responsibility and privilege. University and national scholarships and financial assistance help make college something realistically attainable, but financial aid must not reach the point where students lose nothing because of their decisions in college. The pressure that loans and debt place on students is beneficial to both their studies and their futures; it forces them to take their commitments seriously.
All Trojans worked hard to get into USC and know what is expected of them in order to succeed. An inability to view education as something for which students must take financial responsibility is detrimental to society and to students themselves.
Ryan Townsend is a sophomore majoring in business administration. His column “The Blame Game” runs every Tuesday.