Student Loans: The Shame Factor

Students want to pay their student loans.  Most students do pay their student loans even when it is difficult. However, some students encounter problems.  They are ashamed when they cannot pay their loans. That shame leads to denial and avoidance; i.e. “if I ignore my student loan debt, it will go away.”  The Federal government and private lenders have interpreted student’s denial and avoidance as willful neglect, i.e. “students are deadbeats.”

The Federal government has acted on the mental model –“students are deadbeats” – by:

  •  Denying relief in bankruptcy for student loans
  • Paying private collection fees up to 31% of student loan balance

Shame keeps the problem invisible. Students suffer privately and only occasionally let the problem seep out in anger in public protests or, as a last resort, suicide.  The protests outrage people – “we pay our mortgages, our car loans, why should we give students a free ride?”  The answer is complicated but first we must make the problem visible.

Give up shame.  Share your story, honestly and without blame.  The student loan system is broken and pointing fingers doesn’t help.  Perhaps crowdsourcing is a solution.  Some possible actions to promote crowdsourcing solutions:

  • Post your student loan debt, interest rates, and monthly payments on Facebook, along with the name of your college and graduation date.  Post updates about your progress in paying off the debt.
  •  Start a student loan support group at your college, your co-working space or on line. Share stories, successes, failures.
  •  Give student loans visibility with your college alumni association.  Include in alumni bios complete information on student loans, loan status, etc.

Always aim for authenticity; never resort to spin.  If you don’t tell your story, people will tell the story from their own perspective; i.e. “students are deadbeats.”  Let’s change the story telling dialogue to “always assume good intensions.”