Suffice it to say: A lot of people borrow a lot of money to go to college. More and more people are doing so, and they're borrowing more and more. Should we advise people not to do this?
On the one hand, it is clearly possible to get yourself into a lot of trouble with college debt....So if you're contemplating taking out debt to pay for college, you need to think about what the payments are going to add up to. Look at the financial offer letter you get from your college, see how much borrowing they expect you to do in your first year, then multiply that by 5 (to hedge and deal with the possibility they may change your grant to loan ratio in later years) and run that number through a loan calculator.
For the last 11 years, MrsDarwin and I have been paying ~$250/mo towards paying off her college loans...I certainly would not consider it too high a price to pay for the education we got. Even though MrsDarwin hasn't worked for the last 10 years, I would not remotely consider that money a bad investment. That said, if your situation is such that you're looking at very high monthly loan payments to service your student debt, you need to do some serious thinking.
...Another important thing to consider in this regard is why you're going to college. If, like me and MrsDarwin, you're going to college for the purpose of deepening and broadening your education, you need to think about how much getting that education is worth to you.
If you are going in order to get some kind of professional degree or certification, it becomes a much more straightforward and monetary task: You need to ... decide whether this professional education represents a good return on investment. Since you're not pursing a professional degree or certification simply for the joy of learning or for the experience, it makes sense to be very hard nosed about the analysis involved and determine whether the risks and costs involved are worth it.
Handily, he compares average debt at my and Mark's alma mater with his and MrsD's.
(Mark and I didn't have to take on any student loans at all, so our distaste for nondischargeable debt is in part borne of not experiencing it much).
I can't argue with what Darwin has to say, except to add that I wonder -- if you surveyed people who went to college hoping for a broadened, deepened education -- how many of them would agree 15-20 years later that they were still happy to be paying it off at hundreds of dollars a month. I suppose it depends on what they think they got for their money.
Because the other side of the value question is -- do people who go into debt for their education usually get the quality education they were expecting?