I knew long before I went to college that I would graduate with a large debt–doesn’t everyone? However, knowing this fact is far different from living it. Despite the universal reality of student loans and the debt they represent, my experience at a wealthy private college completely changed my view of the debt problem. I used to accept debt as an unpleasant but not especially onerous reality. Now I realize the immensity of the student debt problem–a problem that threatens not only our already weakened economy but the future of the nation. Before he sets an agenda for the country, the next president needs to understand that student debt contributes more to the disparity between the wealthy and the middle and lower classes every day, and that this situation must be addressed.

I knew my decision to attend a private college meant taking on debt, but I thought it was a reasonable sacrifice for what I believed would be a better education. I had no idea that my primary education would be in the growing gap between the middle and upper classes. As total costs for one year’s attendance were $47,000, I was curious, to say the least, about how my money would be spent. To my dismay, I learned that much of this money was spent on construction projects and relatively extravagant dining halls, not to mention real estate purchases within the town to create “social spaces” for students. While the educational aspects of the college are excellent, some student money goes toward mostly unnecessary services to “enhance” our college experience–which is true of many colleges, both public and private. Realizing that these services were meant to draw wealthy families and prospective students to the college, I checked my school’s statistics in college reviews and found that 52 percent of the students received no financial aid, able to finance their $200,000 education outright. This number will likely increase, as the comprehensive fee for next year is $50,000 and may approach $60,000 by the time I graduate. Those costs could discourage low- and middle-income families from even considering a school like mine, no matter the educational quality. This trend is universal–our nation’s colleges will soon be unaffordable for most middle- and lower-class applicants, regardless of financial aid.

We cannot allow our nation’s colleges to cater exclusively to the rich while slowly edging out applicants from other socioeconomic classes. Private colleges trumpet their efforts to increase diversity, but these efforts usually involve piling large amounts of debt onto financial aid applicants. My school claims to meet “all the financial needs” of students who can’t afford the $50,000 fee; my financial needs (and those of most other scholarship students) were met with a sizable grant but also with a considerable loan component. Loans, whatever else they may be, are not an acceptable form of paying for college. Calling loans financial aid is laughable, as loans are undermining the already weakened financial power of the middle and lower classes. Graduating with debt that is likely to last for at least a decade has become the norm for most students who do not belong to the upper class–an unsettling fact in a country with a flagging economy brought on by Bush’s unending campaign to consolidate the power of the wealthy. This trend must be stopped.

Having experienced this situation firsthand, I know that the vouchers touted by the presidential candidates will not be enough to solve the student debt crisis. As tuition and fees continue to rise steadily, vouchers will lose their worth. The next president must address this problem directly: the government needs to take definitive action toward eliminating student debt. If action is not taken, college debt will destroy the economic power of the middle and lower classes, leaving them in the hands of the wealthy.