Stu­dent loan DILEMMA

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY - Ge­orge Davis Ge­orge Davis is a broad­cast ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and talk-show host. Email feedback to col­umns@glean­ and ge­orge.s.davis@hot­

AS I scan the hori­zon and check how many of those who grad­u­ated univer­sity with me in 2005 now own a home, I realise the im­pact that stu­dent loan debt is hav­ing on Ja­maica. Given the ab­sence of a data set with which to draw sci­en­tific con­clu­sions, I have con­soled my­self with sim­ply ‘faas­ing’ into the busi­ness of the nu­mer­ous UTech alumni I en­counter in­side and out­side this coun­try.

It’s scary to con­sider that a young woman who left univer­sity 11 years ago is still not in a po­si­tion to make a down pay­ment on a home, given that she’s very early into the con­sol­i­da­tion pe­riod of her life after hav­ing taken care of the stu­dent loans owed to the Stu­dents’ Loan Bureau (SLB), or the credit union or bank from which she bor­rowed to pur­sue so-called higher ed­u­ca­tion. Imag­ine that.

Eleven years after en­ter­ing the work­force and given the fact that she has to pay for lodg­ings, buy food, clothes, pay for trans­port, util­i­ties, take care of per­sonal needs and ser­vice the SLB loan plus the bank loan when she can, she’s still sev­eral years away from go­ing to Gore De­vel­op­ers to se­lect a unit and make a down pay­ment of $900,000 or more.

In con­sid­er­ing how so many peo­ple who are now 30-some­things have been re­strained in their de­vel­op­ment by the har­ness of the high cost of liv­ing in Ja­maica, big stu­dent-loan debts and the stub­born re­fusal of real wages to in­crease, I get a new re­flec­tion of how this coun­try has man­aged to fail those it sold the lie of ed­u­ca­tion be­ing the way out of poverty.

Some­one read­ing this may ask for the num­bers to lend sub­stance to my ar­gu­ment. In the Ja­maican con­text, those don’t ex­ist.

But that doesn’t in­val­i­date the re­al­life ac­count, given by those who have tried to duck the SLB for a spell, hop­ing to use money ear­marked for loan re­pay­ment to try to stay alive in the Ja­maica of Por­tia, Bruce and An­drew.

The ab­sence of the num­bers does noth­ing to the cred­i­bil­ity of those who talk about be­ing pris­on­ers of debt and hav­ing to face the scorn and de­ri­sion of those who ask why they are now liv­ing hand to mouth and ‘box­ing s**t out of hog mouth’ when they went to school for three or four years to get a fancy de­gree.

The ab­sence of the num­bers means noth­ing to the young man who stands in Half-Way Tree on a storm­ing Fri­day night wait­ing for a taxi to Span­ish Town, who won­ders what use he’ll be to him­self by the time he’s done pay­ing all his stu­dent debts and is in a po­si­tion to buy a small car.

I would be happy to know the to­tal value of stu­dent debt in Ja­maica to the SLB and other in­sti­tu­tions. Based on a re­port pub­lished in July this year by the White House, I do know that to­tal stu­dent debt in the United States in US$1.3 tril­lion and grow­ing. I know that the av­er­age col­lege stu­dent in the US owes US$18,000, while the av­er­age grad­u­ate stu­dent owes up to US$37,000. I would wel­come the SLB pub­lish­ing the fig­ures for Ja­maica.

Sim­i­lar to their coun­ter­parts in the United States, the Ja­maican univer­sity or col­lege grad­u­ate faces a very un­cer­tain fu­ture, un­able to see a clear path through the debt morass, no mat­ter how far they wade. Many sto­ries have been told about how a few late credit card or util­ity-bill pay­ments have af­fected the ratings given to per­sons by the early en­trants into the credit bureau busi­ness in this coun­try.

Imag­ine what a five-year stretch of be­ing delin­quent with stu­dent-loan pay­ments or pay­ing less than the sub­scrip­tion amount will do to a credit score that a grow­ing num­ber of en­ti­ties are de­pend­ing on to de­ter­mine whether to do busi­ness with po­ten­tial clients or cus­tomers.

So as you see their pic­tures plastered in the pages of the Sun­day papers, have some sym­pa­thy for those be­ing hunted by the SLB for delin­quency. It’s not by de­sign that they are ow­ing. It’s just that in the pay-or-sur­vive phase of life that they are in, only an idiot would choose to pay.


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