[ This article is the first part of a string of op-ed pieces on the topic of student debt realised by SaC. We welcome any related stories that could be incorporated as a means to expand our plea for more awareness on the subject. Thanks y’all! – K for SaC ]

It was only a few weeks ago that the news headlines announced “porn industry seeks federal bail-out“. More than 300 companies have now benefited from federal funding, taking them out of crisis custody, awaiting economic trial. So liberal now is our world, freedom comes with a governmental tag price on it.

I remember times when socialism was way too close to communism to be safe, when it was an archaic, obsolete concept belonging to the grave with the likes of Leon Blum and his cohort of backwards, freedom-bashing Europeans mocking and pointing an accusatory finger at the American dream. Those were the good old days of the Clinton Administration, dazzling American hegemony, imperialism and sideways snark at France and Spain, just short of selling themselves out to China. Higher education was for the priviledged, the bold and the beautiful. Those were the 90s, golden age of television. I was a teenager dreaming about a high-paying job and early retirement.

Around me, it’s not just worry I see painted on familiar faces; it’s also sheer desperation. Gabrielle told me today: “I am $115,030 in debt for my education. I have a BA, and I’m stuck here babysitting four times a week for $10 an hour. I have yet to pay rent for January.” If you think Gabrielle is an isolated case, think again: higher education is no longer the privilege that it once was, and more students are starting there professional life with a six digit deficit… And no hope to see it decrease in sight.

We are graduates, post-graduates, we are the future of our nations. We are qualified, skilled, and readily available. We have no spouses nor children to nail us in one specific place: we are flexible, movable, and enthusiastic. Raised in an era of over-consumption, we could be the future investors working towards rebuilding the economy. We should be the ones buying cars starting saving for the mortgage, feeding Ikea and Starbucks’ pockets. We are everyone’s favorite market audience. We like to spend, so much we all did to the extent of $27,000 per annum on average for our tuition fees. Truth is, our individual debt is more worrying than any of the aforementioned companies; but no one has extended a hand to help us kickstart our lives. Problem is, a country can hardly survive without young manpower.

Execs are retiring, but can’t be replaced. Loan companies can’t meet their ends, as debitors don’t have income. In the end, retirement won’t be an option anymore, as the younger generation won’t be paying the necessary taxes to contribute to federal funds. It’s primordial to put us to work. It’s primordial that our primary ressources don’t go towards paying a humongous debt we contracted out of self-improvement and general, global increase in knowledge. If a reform of the educational system may be in order, now is not the time; now is the moment to clean up our slate so our only option isn’t to die in a fire in Iraq or Afghanistan. Wars this government couldn’t even afford in the first place.

Eventually, it’s about finding some room to breathe, knowing you’ve got a place, a real one, that you can contribute, that you are part of the social contract, that your duties are tied up to your rights. Supposedly entitled with knowledge and reserved places in society, we are strongly handicapped by our debt, to the point some of us are wondering if they will ever be able to lead the life we’re all striving for. Is it even a possibility, an option, a box to tick to start job-hunting in this climate? Renee, who signed up for the Stafford Loan and is currently $27,000 in debt, has told us: “I have actually been thinking a lot about that lately because I’m sending my grad application in. I’m going to have all this debt afterwards. But I won’t be able to find a job anyway, so I might as well continue studying but then where will that get me?” Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The incertitude is plaguing us. Not old or experienced enough to have been given the opportunity to save, no employer willing to train any young graduate, and a growing debt with increasing interest floating over our heads like a black cloud, strangely feels like professional suicide. By the time we might be done paying for our loan, it will be time to retire – but we won’t have any savings ready. The question mark has been pushed back three, four, maybe five years until the economy is back on its former tracks, if it ever is. When will we even be in the position to reimburse that loan? When will we be finally allowed to start living our lives? Tiffany, with an approximate $95,000 debt by the time she finishes her BA, explains: “I have no other prospect than going back to living with my parents after school. Not only do I owe the government, but I also owe my parents in financial aid. I’m trying not to think about it. I’ve been considering both journalism and public relations, and would probably have to start out on an intern level with very little pay. So I fear I will not be able to live on my own for a while yet, because I owe so much and will be making so little. And that’s just if I can actually find a job or a paid internship.” When I mentioned the porn industry – in the person of Joe Francis – hadn’t been too shy to plea for a federal bail-out, Tiffany commented: “Even the porn industry? Wow. Those are real good priorities there.”

It’s definitely not the usual career cold-feet process the previous generations went through. This economic crisis, a first since the end of World War II, won’t have a Marshall Plan to contain it. Only option seems to remain positive and creative in these times of distress. Gabrielle has started a project with an art gallery where she works as an intern. She is collecting pieces of art donated by her friends – photographers, painters, writers – and will organize an auction sale. All benefits will go towards her loan company. Tiffany’s friend has been installing a PayPal donation button on his MySpace and Facebook profiles, both social networking sites with huge popularity among the student population, to expand his circle of potential donators. He explained that if everyone donated as little as $5, it could help paying for his tuition.

Solidarity’s all we have left. For the rest, American Express might be able to lend a hand – if it benefits from a federal bailout.