Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Debt For College. Debt For Life.

It came in the mail, mixed in with the barrage of college and university flyers that my 17 year old son has been receiving since he first took the PSAT.

It was a brown-black envelope, decorated with a pattern made of positive-thinking words.

On the front, two short declarative statements:

"For College.  For Life."

I thought, at first, it was a marketing offer for a credit card, in this case, the Discover card.  Which it might have been.

Obviously, the good folks at the College Board have not just marketed my son to colleges, but have also sold his information to the credit card companies.  Or to a reseller of information.

I was, at first, a little cheesed.  The absolute last thing you want a young person to start out their life with is debt.  Credit cards in the hands of freshmen are dangerous, dangerous things, and can trap the unwise or the unwary in a cycle of overconsumption and financial insecurity.  They create unrealistic, debt-fueled expectations for what life is like, at precisely the time when they have limited incomes and only the modest capacity to sustain themselves.

But if you can get a young adult hooked on the debt-expectation early, they'll stay hooked.

So I was prepared to be furious with the College Board, but then I thought, wait a minute.  This might be an offer from Discover's student loan branch, as the credit card company has gone into the very lucrative business of making loans to college-bound students.

For most college bound folks, isn't that what college itself is these days?  Debt, driven by social anxieties and expectations?

Here, these huge and bloated institutions, that market the "experience" of college more aggressively than they market the life-knowledge that college is meant to impart.  Higher education is increasingly fueled on the false growth of debt, with endless administrative structures and entertainment complexes springing up even as adjunct professors and teaching assistants are paid dismal salaries to do the actual teaching.

But we need it, must have it, or we will not be successful.  And so of course we go into hock, because what colleges market is success, is winning, is being able to have the good things in life.  We want that.  We want to touch it and hold it and be it.

So we must go into debt, or our culture tells us we cannot have these things.

Was it for college loans, or for a credit card?  I looked at the unopened envelope again.

Really, is there a difference?

It went straight into the recycling.  Unopened.