The Indentured Generation

How college debt stunts young people's dreams

| September / October 2003

The problem of rising college tuition and massive student debt affects all of us -- even if we're not in school or don't have college-age kids. College graduates burdened by loan payments are forced to take the highest-paying job, no matter what. Many budding artists, activists, entrepreneurs, inventors, teachers, clergy, and spirited non-conformists are shuttled off to a cubicle somewhere before ever testing out their ambitions. The next Rachel Carson or Spike Lee may never be heard from. There must be a better way to finance higher education. And there is, if you look at Europe's example or America's work colleges -- described in sidebars here. -- The Editors

For many ambitious Americans from modest backgrounds, college debt has helped transform their 20s and early 30s from an age in which to explore the world, establish themselves, or pursue idealistic or artistic goals into a time of oddly limited career options and scaled-down dreams. "It colors every little decision you make," says 26-year-old Gabriel Schnitzler, who graduated from Yale Law School in 2001 with $106,000 in loans and now works for a small corporate firm.