I’m 25 years old, and while I do enjoy avocado toast and a latte every now and again, that isn’t what’s standing between me and the American Dream. There’s a misconception in popular media that people my age are fiscally irresponsible — that we were too spoiled by participation trophies to develop the grit necessary to achieve our dreams. In my experience of millennials, though, these tropes couldn’t be further from the truth.
My parents both came from working-class backgrounds and made it through college with Pell Grants and modest student loans. While my dad was studying, he could work hard in the summer and save up enough money to cover rent for the rest of the year. Thirty years later, I watched my friends who, even though they had loans, needed to work 30-hours-a-week minimum wage jobs to make it through their degrees. Post-graduation, some of those friends spend 50% of their meager teaching salaries on rent and another 25% on student loan payments. For those that had to take out private student loans when federal loans wouldn’t cover the entire bill, these payments are even higher, with fewer supports or protections.
Navigating the finances of higher education is an entirely different game for millennials. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 1978 to 2017, tuition increased 1,375%, four times more than the rate of inflation, according to the Wall Street Journal. Often, private loans are the only way to finance such a high cost of attendance.
While President Biden’s pause on federal student debt repayments can offer temporary relief, this pause only affects those with federal student loans, and one-third of borrowers are indebted to private lenders. Unlike federal loans, mortgage lenders and credit card companies, private lenders don’t have any catchall reporting requirements. This sends many borrowers (many of whom are navigating this at 17-years-old without help) into high interest rates and inflexible repayment plans designed to get them to default. These predatory loan practices disproportionately affect Black borrowers and first-generation students.
Young people do not need lectures on the price of Starbucks — what we need is more accessible higher education and protections for private student loan borrowers. In Colorado, we can secure these necessary protections: Write your state representatives now asking them to support SB21-057, the Colorado Student Loan Equity Act.
Silen Wellington (they/them) grew up in Colorado, graduated from CU Boulder and is a composer, musician, writer and advocate currently living in Fort Collins.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.