Student loan update: It’s for your own good, and it won’t hurt a bit.
Acton Institute Powerblog

Student loan update: It’s for your own good, and it won’t hurt a bit.

It’s illegal for undercover cops to entrap a prostitute by offering her money for sex, but apparently it’s just fine for our government to entrap people with massive interest-accumulating student loans they never asked for or inquired about.

Last week I wrote about the growing problem of gargantuan federal student loan debt ($1.2 trillion and rising), with a headline alluding to the federal government’s complicity in drawing college students and their families into debt slavery. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to experience the come-on firsthand, in a letter from a university my son was accepted into.

Keep in mind, as I relate the details of this, that we’re generally very pleased with this university and know a lot of good people who work there.

The university earlier had informed us that we had to fill out the Free Application for Student Federal Aid (FASFA) to be eligible for academic scholarships since, as one web page explains, its “the foundation” they use to determine eligibility for university, state and federal programs. Now, my dad always warned me to be suspicious anytime a stranger offers you something for free; but since we wanted to be eligible for merit-based scholarships, and since we knew that the requirement was fairly common among universities, we went ahead and filled out the Free Application, giving them all manner of personal financial information—the particulars of which, we were assured, would have no bearing whatsoever on how much merit aid our son received.

We completed the slightly Orwellian exercise, and happily, our son did receive some merit-based aid. However, the same letter announcing this also informed us that we had qualified for two federal loans we had never expressed any interest in. All we have to do is check two small boxes right beside the box for the scholarship money and, presto, kindly old Uncle Sam would issue us the loans.

To its credit, the letter does note that the loans (unlike the scholarships) must be paid back, and that interest on the loans would begin accumulating immediately, but beyond this it does little to impress upon the reader the long-term financial consequences of unleashing the monster of compound interest, while doing everything to encourage and simplify our accepting the loans—everything short of guiding my hand to check the two empty boxes.

I continue to believe that those who take out massive student loans are primarily responsible for doing so (nobody held a gun to their heads), but I’ve now experienced another side of the story up close and personal—government proxies pursuing and enticing families to become debtors to the federal government.

That it happened at a reputable university with a reputation for responsible cost controls and quality customer service speaks to how deeply the federal student loan program is now entangled in higher education. The path to debt slavery to the government has become, as sociologist Emile Durkheim might have put it, part of the social fact. It’s the simply the way things are done.

So check the box, stay in the box, do not question the box. The loan is for your own good, and it won’t hurt a bit.