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Op-Ed: Buried in Student Loans? Don't Blame the Banks

The “Occupy Wall Street” protest has been struggling to find an issue to occupy. One issue coming to the fore is student loans—the growing number of unemployed former students who borrowed money in search of the American dream and now find they can’t afford to pay it back. Call it buyer’s remorse, they made a mistake and want their loans “forgiven”.

OWS education
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OWS education

It’s déjà vu all over again.

Just as housing prices escalated out of control, so is the cost of college in America. But how we got here and what we want to do about it is much more complicated. Maybe you’re in debt for all the right reasons. Or maybe, you chased after that “designer label” college status you couldn’t afford because of an inflated sense of self—blame your mother, blame the system but, please don't blame the banks.

And please, don’t ask me to foot the bill.

The issue is becoming part of the national conversation because for so many people it’s personal. I’m an editor at CNBC, but also the parent of a college freshman, and I can tell you it’s very personal.

When our children are born, we promise them everything and hope it comes true.

We promise them that if they do well in school that they can go to the best college they can get into. But, for many those dreams are now fantasies—or at least they should be.

The cost of a private school college education is absurdly high, my daughter’s education will cost about $225,000 over the next four years. There were no banks knocking on my door begging me to take the money so that I could send her to the college of her dreams.

It was our choice—a decision made knowing that there are other options, cheaper options, and that she may get a great job at the end of four years, or she could wind up living in our basement. It’s all a crap shoot, a gamble and there are no guarantees.

I’m not sure how we got to this point but, it certainly feels like we are at a breaking point. Are the government and banks to blame for easy money that helped push up the cost of the golden ticket? Maybe but, they can’t sell us what we don’t want to buy.

Maybe we should take a hard look at other issues driving up the costs including professors that do more research and less teaching, or all those fabulous gyms on campus.

The cost of college is also the result of a culture that has accepted it as “the” best way to get ahead—we are not all Bill Gates. And high school has become a four-year sprint to get into the best college or university that money can buy. I get that, I am living it—early decision, SAT tutors, the full catastrophe is playing out again in my household.

There are certainly reasons that we buy into the dream. But at the end of the day, it should all boil down to one simple question: can you afford it?

Is that fair? I don’t know but, it’s the way it is—I applaud any effort to change the system, but once you bought a ticket, please don’t ask me to foot the bill, I’m still paying for your house.

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