Editorial: The $7 Burrito Debt and Colorado’s College Graduate Crisis
There are the legions of budget balancers where, sometime near the end of a semester, a choice is to be made between a $7 burrito and beer for the weekend.
For college students, living large can be about balancing the $26.50 in the bank account and not incurring overdraft fees, while avoiding monster debt notes that come due in the six months after graduation.
While paying for a burrito may not seem like a big deal, it can mean everything for a college student.
In America today, the average college student will rack up $25k to $35k worth of debt just to get a degree so they can get a job with their teaching, nursing, engineering, social work or English diplomas.
Actually, let’s not kid ourselves. There are few jobs for people with English major degrees – it’s just paying to read books for a world that wants no more than 140 characters. En all cerealness, we not need edritors or kn0w words. #emoji smileyface Snapcat..
But that brings up an interesting point. Why spend all this money on college, maybe rack up a seemingly endless and an unbeatable amount of debt for a job that probably isn’t available in regions ill-suited for college students and grads?
If Southeast Colorado is going to have any shot in capturing some of the Colorado growth, it is going to have to find a way to attract and retain university and community college grads not in just nursing, teaching, welding, or electrical areas, but also in mathematics, physics, and, yes, liberal arts.
It’s going to have to be able to make that $35k loan debt manageable for a graduate, while offering a way of life that college students and grads can afford.
This is not theory or a complaint, but a fact of life for college graduates in Southern Colorado that there simply isn’t enough job opportunity for someone with a college degree in this part of the state.
Now before you say, “well, young people leave their hometown for the bright lights of a big city” – I’m not referring to retaining young Puebloans or Southern Coloradans here. And I’m not talking about those who don’t go to college. In fact, this isn’t even about Colorado State University – Pueblo or their efforts to innovate under their new president. Even if CSU-Pueblo changes into that type of intellectual incubator they envision, there may not be enough varying jobs for their graduates.
I’m thinking of that UC-Berkeley grad specializing in advanced biomechanical research who right now, hasn’t ever heard of Pueblo, but is trying to buy a burrito and not overdraft his bank account. Or the liberal arts student in a small college in the woods in Michigan who will spend hours online looking for anywhere in the country that will employ her. These graduates are going where the jobs are.
Pueblo and SE Colorado have been so worried about losing young people that they seem to have forgotten how to attract others to make up for the brain drain. It’s been so focused on why people are leaving instead of what would make people come here.Real
How do we solve this? First Southern Colorado has to think like a college student.
To attract young people with college degrees isn’t any mystery. Step 1: Have jobs that pay well. Step 2: Have things to do when not working or going to college.
If you do the math, the average college grad with an average amount of student loans loses about $4k a year in purchasing power for 10 years. For community colleges, the loan burden is still there but is less. And for private institutions and advanced degrees, the loan burden can jump by tens of thousands of dollars.
It means that when the median income is $35k, a degree that comes with heavy debt can price many graduates right out of Pueblo and Southern Colorado no matter how affordable Pueblo is.
Pueblo’s economy is in large part a heavy industry city hoping to be a convention city but then wanting to be a retirement community. One heavy industry can pay well and it can attract advanced degrees but it can also need cheap labor. A convention city needs service industry jobs often times not paying enough to put a dent in student loans.
And as for Southern Colorado’s attractiveness, a college grad doesn’t think about the affordability of a place or how likely family friendly a community is. They are worried about having a job and then having things to do with other graduate-aged people.
As for Step 2: Being a place where young people want to be young in – even if the jobs aren’t there, students and grads have time to work side hustles because there’s vibrancy to living there. Having occasional festivals, fairs and downtown with some restaurants isn’t enough.
It’s about understanding the $7 burrito-gamble college students and recent grads are playing around the country and even in Southern Colorado. Right now, we ask them to assume debt for a job to pay off that debt. We also ask them to live and contribute in the communities where they work. What we don’t do is ever question whether Southern Colorado offers enough for them so they can pay off their burrito debt.
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