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Dropouts and student loan debt

Much of the ongoing discussion on the student loan crisis revolves around college graduates struggling to find work in their chosen field. The dream of starting the job they spent four years preparing for becomes a harsh reality of unemployment. Some find themselves taking lesser-paying jobs far outside of their field. Others decide to live at home with their parents until their fortunes turnaround.

One segment enduring the pressures of student loan debt is largely overlooked. Their post-collegiate financial struggles started before they could graduate because they were unable to complete their studies.

Countless numbers of those who chose to leave school before receiving their degrees find themselves with significant debts and minimal prospects for well-paying jobs. Desperate to make ends meet and avoid sliding further into debt, they take on jobs at retail stores, restaurants and warehouses.

Nicole Smith, chief economist at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, refers to it as a form of purgatory. “You have this extra burden and debt on you that cannot be written off. Because you don’t have the higher credential, you’re not going to be able to get the job to pay it. It’s a significant problem.”

Statistics are not on the side of those who dropped out. The number of students without degrees but saddled with debts continues to grow during a time when the number of jobs requiring a post-secondary education is on the increase.

More alarming, the repayment rates are lower for dropouts as the now account for two-thirds of defaults.

Purgatory is getting to be a crowded place and the population seems to be growing.

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William T. Peckham
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