Thu | Aug 17, 2017

George Davis | Student loan dilemma

Published:Wednesday | October 12, 2016 | 10:00 AM

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 real-life 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.

Selah.

- George Davis is a broadcast executive producer and talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.