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Starting Life in Debt: The Graduate’s Dilemma

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 14, 2009

A nod to Corey Huber of The Fund for Vocations for calling attention to important research on the impact of college debt on marriage and family life. This research was actually summarized several years ago by Allan Carlson in a presentation to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Corey’s point is that this is highly relevant to my ongoing discussion of the right way to educate your children at the college level.

Indeed, going into debt to pay for higher education has become a significant problem; moreover, it is a problem which most students are too young to take seriously. What, after all, does it mean to most eighteen and nineteen year olds to be in debt, if someone else tells them it is normal?

What it means, apparently, is greater stress, problems in relationships, more frequent cohabitation instead of marriage, higher divorce rates, significant delays in starting families, and significant reduction of the number of children in these families. Carlson rightly notes that all of this runs directly contrary to the goal of educational loan programs, which is to increase the availability of human capital to society.

As Carlson also points out, the traditional approach to preparing the next generation for family life was to provide dowries or other marital gifts to help a new couple get a start. But now the common pattern is to put young couples as deeply into debt as possible before turning them loose. There is much food for thought in Carlson’s remarks and in the studies on which they are based. I suspect most of us could provide our own anecdotal evidence as well. As parents playing a vital role in putting your kids through college, add this to your list: Mortgage-sized debts are to be avoided. Tens of thousands of dollars is still too much, especially since they're likely to double it when they marry. Do your best to help your children make choices that will bring them out of college without debilitating debt.


Previously in this series: Kids and College: A Question of Money
Next in this series: College Education: Catholic vs. Secular

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