School loans: The new indentured servitude

I was in my chiropractor’s chiropracting room not long ago and he was telling me about his finances. I like to think my wife and I have a very special relationship with our chiropractor, but I’ve known him long enough, and sat in his waiting room enough time, to know most of his patients feel this way.

He is that rare breed of modern healthcare worker who you could easily see meeting up with at the local tavern at the end of the day to shoot the breeze over a few beers before heading home to your farm or blacksmithery for the night. You know, the old country doctors who went around to people’s homes and could prescribe remedies for  everything from arthritis to indigestion. And I’m pretty sure he would prescribe remedies for both of those, too, if you asked him.

He was telling me how much he pays in school loans every year, how it was enough to pay a mortgage or his kid’s college fund, and how he’ll be working for the next twenty years just to be free of that burden and actually keep the money he makes. I said, ‘Just like indentured servitude.’ He replied, ‘Yeah, it is. Exactly like indentured servitude.’

Indentured servitude refers to the historical practice of contracting to work for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during the term of indenture. Wikipedia

Europeans were so eager to get to America, the land of possibility, they were willing to trade in years of their lives to get there, just for the chance at a better future than the one they saw for themselves in their homelands.

For Americans, the ticket to the promised land is now a college degree, usually more than one. Now it is an education which represents the greatest opportunity and the greatest threat to our futures. Without a college degree we have only waiting tables, answering phones, or cleaning bathrooms to look forward to for the rest of our days. With a college degree, we have the chance to do something we love, to make great money, to be successful.

My chiropractor loves his job. He is incredibly passionate about helping people live better, healthier lives and he is convinced chiropractic is the best way he can do that. He could probably never have become a chiropractor without taking those loans, so for him mortgaging away part of his future income on doing something that mattered made sense. It made sense again when he had to get a loan to start his own practice, which added more debt to his family’s plate. For him it was worth it to take his future into his own hands.

What about you? Is it worth it to get a bachelor’s or master’s degree if it means paying it off for the next ten years?

School loans: The new indentured servitude

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