This semester, I have a unique opportunity to teach my own course on Student Loans, Other Debt, and the U.S. Economy. As a 100-level course, there are no pre-requisites, and as a special topics course, it is not a pre-requisite for any other course. Instead, it is a course open to all majors and levels, that weaves a thread about debt to understand different aspects of the economy, especially inequality and instability. We do so through four units: student debt, mortgage debt and the 2008 crisis, corporate debt, and government debt, with student debt being the largest unit.
In teaching on student debt so far, I have made some surprising observations about where students are at in terms of understanding the development of student debt, its impacts, and what can be done about it.
- in the first weeks of course, many shared personal concerns about debt, especially those that either have debt or have had friends/family take on student debt
- a general sense of fear and anxiety associated with student debt
- naïvité in understanding student indebtedness as a very *new* norm in American society
- a tendency to view debt as playing a role in getting a “return on investment” in education
- some express doubt about education or a degree actually being meaningful in the economy
- viewing debt as a matter of “responsibility” and desiring “financial literacy”, a tendency to internalize student debt as a matter of “poor decision making”
- they want to learn how to be “smart” with their money
- some think colleges are profiting off of debt
- most chose UMass in part due to concerns about debt
- some international students express confusion about the American system of higher education financing
What I find most interesting is how deeply the rhetoric of personal finance in ingrained in many students- even those who lived through the 2008 crisis.