Education: Is a College Degree a Path to Success or Debt Trap?

Chicas, let me give you some sound advice: if you don’t have to, don’t go to college.

As the default rate on student loans increases at an alarming rate, students are reconsidering their choice to attend a four-year institution. So should Latinas.

I can already hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth: ¿Qué dices? What do you mean? Isn’t, education, specifically getting a college degree, a stepping-stone towards reaching the American Dream?

Let me clarify what I mean:

  • I don’t want to see any more of my Latina sisters defaulting on their loans or dropping out of school because they can’t afford the tuition.
  • The debt we acquire going to a four year university is negatively affecting our ability to pursue the American dream in the form of buying a house, raising a family, or attending graduate school.

We cannot afford to be the generation of suckers.


She looks happy, but she’s thousands of dollars in debt. Courtesy:

Our Mamis and Papis told us that getting a college degree would put us on the path to financial security. Although statistics show that those without a college degree have more than twice the unemployment rate of those with a diploma, few jobs are available to recent college grads because the weak economic recovery has placed us in direct competition with more experienced workers who have been laid off. If we are among the fortunate few to land a job, it doesn’t pay enough. The New York Times coined the phrase “22-22-22“: a 22-year-old working 22 hours a day for $22,000 a year.

You do the math: if a graduate’s average debt is more than $26,000, but she can only land a $22,000-a-year job, then she is being set up for failure. She will always be behind, trapped in a downward spiral characterized by student loan default and the ensuing bad credit. This jeopardizes her future ability to secure a loan to buy a house or start a business

Education should provide us with more, not fewer choices. To minimize our student debt, maybe that means taking courses at a community college first, then transferring to a public university to save money and avoiding at all costs expensive private loans.

A college degree no longer guarantees the financial security and success it did 30 years ago. My generation’s ballooning debt which is crushing our present and future forces us to make smart choices about pursuing higher education. For many of us,  a four year degree may be optional.

Marjorie Romeyn-Sanabria is a recent graduate from Wesleyan Marjorie_Romeyn_Sanabria-TheWiseLatinaClubUniversity, where she majored in East Asian Studies. A long-time lover of culture, languages, and food, Marjorie’s interests have taken her from New York to China and back again. She lives in New York City, where she works for a major insurance agency by day and writes by night.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Do you still think a college degree is relevant today?


  1. Natalie Fierro says

    I loved this post. I often wonder if it really is in my students’ best interest that we push the 4-year university so strongly. What about providing more practical experience and teach skills that will allow people to be self-sufficient? Thanks for bringing up the issue.

    • says

      Thanks for commenting Natalie. How about adding business development classes at technical schools, to teach these students how to start and grow a business as they master a trade?

  2. IMC says

    I hate to criticize other’s opinions or blog posts, but I think this is the most ridiculous advice ever given. Finally college enrollment of high school grads surpasses non-hispanics and now we’re advising Latinas to hold back?!?!!?! We don’t know where we’ll be four years from, once they graduate college. Additionally there are a number of petitions and people are raising awareness about the high costs of education. I believe by the time the next wave of students entering college graduates these issues will be under control, or at least heading in the right direction. Yes, a student loan is a financial burden but it comes along with so much more positive – think of the pride of success, the example being set for your own children and other family members, the potential of employment at higher rates. In an age where female leaders are moving toward structuring a better path for women to reach the top, how can you even think of advising women, Latinas, against going to college.

    • says

      ICM, thank you for your thoughtful comment. As someone with a Cal BA, Stanford MA, and Yale Ph.D., I revere education, as does my family. But the author of the post brings up a valid point: a 4 year college degree may not be for everyone: some are better served going to technical school with skills that will allow them to work in a trade, craft, even starting a business. As for college student loan debt, the subject of this post, many are graduating and entering an economy that is not allowing them to reach the American dream b.c they are starting off their adult life, thousands of dollars in debt. Until student debt is reigned in at a loan and tuition level, until the economy improves, this is an option that should be on the table.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>