Student loan
"Sad Graduate", via David Kam, ThinkStock.
“Sad Graduate”, via David Kam, ThinkStock.

Does it come as any surprise that even twentysomethings these days have overwhelming debt? If only they weren’t spending money they didn’t have on giant flat-screen TVs, iPods, and video game systems, they might not have such huge credit card debt – right?

Actually, while the consumer market is ever more flooded with a dizzying array of expensive gadgets on which to squander your savings – or your credit, whatever the case may be – the majority of today’s twentysomethings are deep in the red because of college. Half of college graduates put their school expenses on credit cards. We’re talking necessities like tuition, books, and food here, not that new entertainment center.

Worse yet, those of “The Boomerang Generation,” as it has come to be known, are increasingly moving back in with their parents after college; and they aren’t getting much sympathy from older generations either. The USA Today article suggests a lack of patience for their plight. “Come on,” the older generations say, “why don’t these kids just roll up their sleeves, get to work, and shovel their way out of debt?” Even slightly older Generation Xers, once tagged “slackers”, can’t fathom why anyone would return to the nest after graduation.

While we won’t touch the psychological theories behind The Boomerang Generation’s tendency to move back in with their parents, some of them do so because they have too much debt to take on while living on their own. Pile onto the debt a damaged credit score and you have a person starting out life on very weak financial footing.

The older generations who advocate for the Boomerangs to pull themselves up by their collective bootstraps might not be aware that – adjusted for inflation – the average salary for male college graduates has dipped slightly from $51,223 thirty years ago to $50,700 in 2004. Tuition, however, is up 248% for private and 268% for state colleges. And let’s not forget that credit is easier than ever to get, with maxes so high that students can rack up credit debt into the 5 digits. Higher tuition, less pay, and endless credit means, well, that parents might not be converting their kids’ old bedrooms into home theaters or game rooms anytime soon.

The article quoted one woman whose nightmares are a metaphor for her generation, which is less likely than other age groups to pay their bills on time and more likely to have their loans charged off:
“I have nightmares,” says Heather Schopp, 29, of Long Beach, Calif., who accrued $165,000 in student-loan debt to become a chiropractor. “I dream I’m on a hot-air balloon, hanging on for dear life.”

It doesn’t help that while student aid is up overall, it’s spread more thinly among more students. Nor does it help that Congress cut funding from student loan programs – historically the biggest cut to those programs ever. Add to that the latest scandal of schools selling students’ information to credit card companies.

Think about it for a moment: Students are paying higher tuition to schools, which make even more money by selling their information to the very entities that indebt this generation. It’s a vicious cycle, one that leaves no room for long-term savings and investment for home-buying, family-building, and eventual retirement. It seems like everyone’s winning but the grads – and their parents.

Tuition isn’t ever likely to drop, and we can’t count on salaries to increase dramatically in the near future either. Properly educating students on dealing with debt would help, but we also need to reach some middle ground on the schools’ responsibility in the equation, lest we force future generations to trade longer-term financial security for their diplomas.

Originally posted at