Remember when the end of your university loan grace period was no more than a distant dream? At that moment in time, you knew you would have to pay back that loan eventually, but that was 4 years from now. What mattered most was having the right books for your classes and being able to pay for your dorm. And obviously, you thought that by the end of your grace period, you’d have a high-paying dependable job since you’d be a college-educated graduate with a bachelor’s degree in hand.
For many recent graduates in America, not so. There are so many of us who are unemployed, uncovered by health insurance (despite the new law), and flat-out broke. After graduation day, reality gave us a swift, hard kick outside the little dollhouse of academia, the warm, safe zone where young people have rights: discounts with Student Advantage, health care provided by our parents or sold by our schools, immunity from paying academic loans.
Apparently, students are the only ones who get sick, are living on a budget, and need extra time to pay off their college debt. I understand that there is a recession, which skews the situation of recent graduates, but nonetheless, a reformation is in order. Graduation should not entail poverty status. There should be a federal program that provides cheap, good-quality health insurance to recent alumni; train or airfare discounts (ie, to help with the cost of travel to job interviews, etc); a longer loan grace period; and more flexible academic debt repayment plans.
I know that the U.S. is not France, and that nationwide discounts for people under the age of 26 somehow clashes with the belabored “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” doctrine. I know that going to a public university–regardless of how much you make, or what state you live in–will never be free in the U.S. And I know that because our public and private universities charge fees, college students will always graduate with debt. I get that we will never (at least in my day) have a social welfare system like that of France, one which would give people under 26 total health care coverage for $105 a year. I get that. But I will never understand the mentality behind why it’s okay to penalize new alumni for going to college, getting a degree, and creating additional human capital for the advancement of their nation’s society. The hefty interest rates on student loans? The limited repayment and deferment options? The lack of discounts for younger people? The high cost of rent, and no special rent payment plans for young people as in France? Yeah. Something needs to be done.
And don’t get me started on the number of grants, fellowships, scholarships, and internships that – while fortunately, are available for grads & undergrads – are off-limits for undergraduate and graduate alumni. Because this, too, severely limits the options for young graduates to improve themselves academically and for free, especially if they don’t have the money or the experience and direction to do a masters. I remember back at school homecoming, my friend Brittney said, “There’s almost nothing for people in between, like us.” She was right.