Reviews | Young America’s Dilemma: The Predatory Choice Between Student Loan Debt and Military Enlistment
Last January, student loan company Navient was forced to forgive $1.7 billion in federal student debt as part of a federal settlement ruled by Attorney General Maura Healey. The settlement, which also required Navient to distribute $95 million in restitution to approximately 350,000 federal borrowers, came after a long fight against the company’s predatory lending practices, which promised to help students in need of help with tuition fees, and directed them to repayment plans instead. which piled on unnecessary interest. Navient also participated in risky subprime loans without consideration for borrowers and their families, leaving hundreds of thousands of students in crippling debt that the company knew they would not be able to repay. These shady practices have been going on for at least two decades with little government intervention. The settlement provided loan forgiveness for students who borrowed between 2002 and 2010. During that time, Navient, now privatized, was still known as Sallie Mae, an entity created by Congress to handle federal loans. As Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “Navient deceived students who borrowed money to pursue their dreams and allowed them to be crushed by avoidable debt, while the U.S. Department of Education turned a blind eye.”
Hopeful teens and graduate students are told they need to go to college to succeed, then lied to by predatory lenders who promise to help them achieve their dreams only to leave them in insurmountable debt even for decades after graduation.
The settlement, which will barely make a dent in this country’s more than $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt, has brought to light a problem that many struggling students and graduates have known for far too long. Choices after high school have become much more complicated over the past few decades. In the past 20 years alone, the average cost of going to a private university has increased by 144%, while the costs of going to a public university in or out of state have increased by 171% and 211%, respectively. Since 1980, wages for young workers have only increased by 19%, with two out of three jobs now requiring post-secondary education, compared to three out of four jobs requiring a high school diploma or less in the 1970s. there has been a small drop in the past two years due to COVID-19, tuition fees have increased by almost 5 times the rate of inflation over the past 50 years. Despite the rapidly rising cost of college attendance, federal scholarships have not kept pace. According to recent research by the College Board, “Total federal grants decreased 32% in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2010-11 and 2020-21” and “Pell grants decreased 39% (16, $4 billion) and veterans benefits decreased by 3% ($405 million).” Rising tuition fees, an increase in jobs requiring college degrees, a lack of well-paying jobs for young workers, and dwindling scholarships for students have become the perfect recipe for the current student debt crisis in our country. Hopeful teens and graduate students are told they need to go to college to succeed, then lied to by predatory lenders who promise to help them achieve their dreams only to leave them in insurmountable debt even for decades after graduation.
It’s easy to draw parallels between student loan companies and another institution that targets students, especially low-income students, with promises of a fulfilling life: the US military. Countless students can share stories of military recruiters approaching them outside of high schools and colleges; Moreover, in the age of social media, it is not uncommon to see advertisements promising many benefits to those who enlist on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. The most egregious military enlistment attempts include targeting internet gamers as young as 13 on video game live streams and even creating their own online game to entice Gen Z with the idea that fighting for the United States would be just as thrilling and exciting as a video game. . In addition to public propaganda on the Internet, the military has long been known to visit schools in an effort to collect information on students and to promote enlistment as a path to success and, for students to low income, a way out of poverty. As permitted by the No Child Left Behind Act signed by George W. Bush in 2002, military recruiters have the same access to high schools as college recruiters, and their recruiting tactics have been honed to target students in need. A 2019 campaign saw recruiters visit high schools with a military truck containing a VR helicopter game, allowing students to play in exchange for “their citizenship status, their GPA, what grade, their email” . This information would no doubt be used to try to lure students into the military with the promise of a $6,000 signing bonus, a fast track to citizenship, and a paid college education. According to a 2017 survey by the Department of Defense, 49% of army recruits enlisted to pay for their education.
Assurances of free education at a time of rapidly rising tuition fees, along with wishes for citizenship and financial aid, have been used by the military to recruit young people while ignoring the reality of the risks associated with enlistment. As one pediatric researcher put it, “Joining military service…implies absolute obedience, uniform appearance, disengagement from family, and potential threat of physical injury and mental stress, as well as a requirement of beyond the personal needs of the individual. ” According to a 2019 study, soldiers who enlist before the age of 25 are 7 times more likely to develop PTSD in combat. Another study of the US military showed “the highest rates of all disorders, including alcohol abuse, anxiety syndromes, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, among the youngest cohort, those aged 17 to 24”. Young women in the military were also those most at risk of self-harm and attempted suicide.
The choice to enlist is further complicated when considering the intersection of student debt and military recruitment. With the growing crisis facing graduates who have incurred massive debts, the military has begun promoting the promise of partial loan forgiveness or interest rate reductions to those who enlist in excess of paid education. This perspective has become so popular that a recent letter to the editor published by the Wall Street Journal questioned whether canceling student loans would lead to fewer young people joining the military, decrying: “If young Americans can access free to college without having to earn the GI Bill or sign up for follow-on military service, will they volunteer for the armed forces in sufficient numbers?”
Unfortunately for hopeful recruits, promises of free tuition and loan forgiveness have often proven too good to be true, and 64% of veterans who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2016 had student loans from an average amount of $27,100. Also, compared to non-veterans, 10% more veterans reported having difficulty repaying their student loan debt. The bureaucracy that many veterans had to navigate to apply for the debt forgiveness promised to them through the Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Program, only to be denied with 92% of military borrowers before the pandemic, has left many many veterans without hope, even with the Biden administration’s promise to fix the program. Lying to recruits about the prospect of loan forgiveness has only aggravated the global debt crisis currently plaguing our country.
The road to student debt cancellation for all Americans has been long and paved with broken promises. Despite several statements in favor of at least partial debt cancellation for the president and vice president during the 2020 campaign, the actual process of creating a loan cancellation plan has been slow and painful for students. and graduates. It’s easy to wonder if politicians, either outright against canceling loans or dragging their feet on swearing to help students in debt, are worried that desperate young people will stop enlisting in the military in an attempt to pay for their studies.