9 people who put a human face on the student debt crisis

"I'm chained to something for the rest of my life."

AJ+ recently released a video aimed at showing the face of student debt in America.

It features nine diverse stories from people with degrees ranging from fine arts to law.


$1.2 trillion. That's how much outstanding student loan debt exists in the U.S.

It's an incredible, terrifying number that can sometimes be hard to even conceptualize. I mean, it's larger than the economy of several small countries.

And over the past 10 years, it has more than tripled.


Which is why the video is so important — it helps humanize the problem.

The video — consisting of a short series of interviews — depicts student debt as the burden it can be, not just on short-term finances, but in terms of career goals, personal relationships, and overall outlook on life.

GIF via AJ+.

A college degree is still seen as valuable, but justifying the amount spent these days can be a challenge.

In a recent Gallup poll, 93% of people polled said they believe it's necessary to have a college degree in order to land a good job. Still, in recent years, experts have clashed on the question of whether college is still worth the investment.

Whether it winds up being a good investment or not, more than 40 million Americans currently have outstanding student loans, with the average debt hovering around $30,000 per person.

GIF via AJ+.

People are protesting and pushing back on loans, but that's not exactly a new phenomenon.

The cost of college keeps rising, and borrowers find themselves without much leverage. As long as popular belief tells us that college is necessary to get a decent job, prospective students will more or less be strong-armed into taking out that hefty burden of credit.

So what can they do? They can try to get the government to help out. And so they protest.

These protesters in Los Angeles called for the cancellation of student debt in 2012. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

While the government has gotten involved from time to time, the problem hasn't exactly gone away.

In 2010, President Obama pushed for Congress to pass the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, which made a few tweaks to the recently-passed Affordable Care Act and helped make things a little easier for future student borrowers in terms of Pell Grants and setting a cap on repayment requirements.

"Let's tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years," Obama said in a 2010 speech. "And forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college."

Last year, the president signed a memorandum designed to help another 5 million existing borrowers.

President Obama signs a memorandum on June 9, 2014. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

Presidents Bush and Clinton also made efforts to help solve the student loan crisis, but it hasn't exactly had the long-term success anyone hoped for.

There may be a solution. But until we figure it out, telling our stories is one way to make a big difference.

Like Sam, who is $81,000 in debt, at one point lived out of his car, and wasn't even able to complete his degree. Or Derrick, who isn't able to find a job in his field, but finds himself saddled with around $180,000 in loans that he guesses won't be paid off for decades.

GIF via AJ+.

These stories are evidence of the true burden that student loans can have on so many of us. They're also evidence that telling your story might be one of the best ways to create change.

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