EDITORIAL: $1,709,919,314,822

1,709,919,314,822; Well over a trillion dollars; More money than the gross domestic product of 175 countries around the world; More than double the annual revenue of every Fortune 500 company; More than 10 times the combined worth of every franchise in all four major American professional sports leagues (per Scholarship America).

Per Scholarship America, “To say that student loan debt is a crisis (in the U.S.) is an understatement.”

Drowning in tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, young people across the country are forced daily to delay and entirely forego crucial life decisions such as getting married and buying a home.

A 2018 Forbes article described the U.S.’s student loan debt crisis as “disastrous” for “millions of Americans.”

The amount of outstanding student loan debt in the U.S., perhaps the wealthiest society in the history of the world, is embarrassing and must be dealt with immediately.

Nearly 50 million Americans carry thousands of dollars of crippling debt each day simply because they chose to value and pursue higher education as they learned—correctly—to do their entire lives. Close to 75% of college graduates leave university with substantial debts.

In 2017, the average graduate left college with nearly $40,000 in student loan debt, about double the average debt level just a decade prior. During a time when more than half of American families would struggle to or be completely incapable of dealing with a $500 emergency, most students and graduates, unsurprisingly, have found themselves unable to escape the horrifying realities of such astronomically high debts.

The amount of student loan debt in the U.S. may initially seem incredible, but considering the soaring costs of attending four-year universities, perhaps no one should actually be surprised. For the 2017-18 school year, the average cost to attend a four-year university in the U.S. was around $30,000. To a generation whose parents mostly attended public universities for little to no cost whatsoever and when working class wages have remained stagnant for decades, it is entirely understandable why so many Americans—even those able to attend college—are struggling desperately to pay their outrageous dues. But what, exactly, are the impacts of such remarkable debts?

First, it is important to understand who, primarily, is facing the brunt of the negative impacts of America’s student debt crisis.

Per Scholarship America, “Overall, we know that students from low-income backgrounds still face the greatest struggle when it comes to earning college degrees. Unstable home lives, lower-quality high schools and other frequent corollaries of low-income neighborhoods present plenty of obstacles even before loan debt becomes an issue.”

But even students capable of attending and graduating from college are being so forcefully held back by their resulting debts that they may wonder whether they should have attended college at all.

“When graduates who are looking for their first post-college job are already $30,000 in debt, the negative effect on the economy is considerable,” Scholarship America states on its website. It continues, “Despite their qualifications, grads often have to settle for lower-paying, lower-skill jobs just so they can start paying… their loan bills right away. As a result, graduates in debt often miss out on the benefits that come with a degree.”

Substantial debt is crippling for college graduates. Students who graduate college with significant debts are substantially less likely to purchase a house or a car in the years following their graduation. Those with serious debts also have worse credit scores and are significantly more likely to continue living with their parents after graduating. These are only a few examples.

Most other modern developed nations provide all citizens with tuition-free higher education, and it is both an international shame and a domestic tragedy that the U.S. is so far behind in this regard.

It is past time for the U.S. to catch up to the rest of the world and ensure that all citizens who wish to pursue higher education may do so without knowing they will almost certainly graduate with crippling debts that will render them incapable of building a career, buying a home, starting a family or making any real socioeconomic progress for decades.

If we as a country—we as a people—wish to continue claiming that our society values education and believes in the countless universally positive impacts of students attending universities, we cannot continue to cripple those amongst us who choose to live by those same values. All Americans should be able to go to college without resigning themselves to decades of debts and the serious likelihood of insurmountable poverty.