Home Culture Economics The Essayist: Why student loan debt is like living in Medieval France

The Essayist: Why student loan debt is like living in Medieval France


Being a student isn’t cheap. It also isn’t easy. In fact, it’s expensive and tough. While a life spent after college makes our college years look easy and relatively stress-free, the truth of the matter is that, at the time, this was the biggest, most challenging thing we had to do. Not only were we in college (which, as a high-school student was something almost mythical) but we were out of the house. We were starting our lives, finding who we are, and, for many of us, beginning to amass a fistful of student debt.

Looking back on my time spent in college, I realize things could have been worse, but they also could have been better. Without launching into an indictment of the problems inherent to pursuing a higher education, I will say that for most of us, student loans are a necessity. According to Patrick Gamble, president of the UA system, many of us also see them as luxuries. This view isn’t entirely wrong, but it is far from wholly right.

If we look at the hours one is expected to place into an education, we’re looking at (at the minimum) a full-time job. According to the University of Michigan’s “Surviving College” guide, a three-credit class is equal to three hours spent in class and an additional six-to-nine hours spent studying every week. If we take the course load of a full-time student (twelve credits) at three hours in class and just six hours studying outside, we’re looking at 36 hours per week. However, many students take more than just four classes a semester, and many more work part-time or full-time jobs on top of that.

Not only are we expected to pay for classes and textbooks (not to mention a dozen student –related fees), but we also have to eat. And sleep. And pay for our gasoline for our beat-up jalopies. And have a few dollars left over to go to the movies, or hit up the Pub, or buy a book.

It’s called having a life. It’s called being happy. Or at least striving for happiness.

In an article on the Alaska Dispatch website, Gamble was quoted as saying that students have “got to have a car, got to have the apartment, got to go to spring break, do all that stuff.”

Yes, Mr. President, I have to have a car to get to my job, I have to have a place to live, and I have to have the ability to take a break every now and then. Spring Break? It isn’t like I’m flying to Cabo in my G-6 (thanks, Dev), it’s called taking a week to veg in front of my computer playing Civilization V like any average college guy.

It’s called being a human being. It’s not living in luxury, its living.

When I was a student, my average semester in college was twelve credits in addition to at least a part-time job. At one point, I was working two part-time jobs. Why? Because my student loans went to paying for my classes, room, and board.

That’s called surviving, not living in luxury.

There are few students who can take a full load of classes while working a full-time job at a living wage. There is a reason a lot of students who live off campus (at least in Fairbanks) live in dry cabins. It’s because that’s all they can afford.

My example is not unique.

In the same Alaska Dispatch article, Jo Heckman, a Fairbanks representative on the Board of Regents and retired bank president, said that her son is borrowing only what’s necessary to attend law school, “but that’s not what most students do.”

That’s true, Ms. Heckman, but most Alaskan students aren’t attending a presumably expensive law school outside of the state and don’t have parents who are former bank presidents.

“They’re going into debt so they can have a car now, a trip now, and go shopping, with little concern for the consequences,” Heckman said.

That’s right. But having a car isn’t a luxury, taking a trip isn’t a luxury, shopping isn’t a luxury. It’s called living.

If I didn’t have a car, couldn’t travel, and couldn’t shop I wouldn’t be living in Alaska, or America, or the modern era. I would be living in medieval Gaul worrying about Viking raids and my next meal. Because, let’s face it, with as much debt as I amassed, for a degree I’m not using, a Viking raid is starting to look pretty good right about now.


  1. I fail to understand our proclivity to hire people to jobs that they hate, overseeing a clientele that they despise. It makes no sense in government and possibly even less sense in education. If I get sick, I don’t want to go to a doctor who would appreciate it if I would just up and die already to avoid cutting into his tee time.

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