Student loans are nothing new. But these days, in the shadows of the financial and housing meltdowns, they've been brought into the spotlight as thousands of college graduates face the music of payback time -- in a big way.
Take Cortney Munna, featured in a New York Times article from Tuesday. After spending four years at New York University, Munna has graduated, the proud owner of $100,000 worth of loans from SLM Corp. (NYSE: SLM ) , also known as Sallie Mae, and Citigroup's (NYSE: C ) Citibank lending unit. Those loans can't be deferred in perpetuity. Like many others in her position, she is in dire need of some help.
Times reporter Ron Lieber writes:
The financial aid office often has the best picture of what students like Ms. Munna are up against, because they see their families' financial situation splayed out on the federal financial aid form. So why didn't N.Y.U. tell Ms. Munna that she simply did not belong there once she'd passed, say, $60,000 in total debt?
But wait. Should the university be responsible for ensuring college students and their families don't bite off more than they can chew? Where does personal responsibility play a role? Do students have a duty to themselves and their families to weigh their options and figure out what's best in the long term, or should the financial aid office make that its focus?
In addition, lenders are facing new challenges. Because of changes in the way the federal government funds student loans, Citigroup recently moved its student loan group into its holding company of noncore businesses. Sallie Mae stands poised to take over those student loan portfolios, arguably making the company the "too big to fail" player in the industry.
Meanwhile, Lieber reports that at this time, Munna can barely afford her living expenses and the loan minimums, and that she wants a clean slate:
Ms. Munna understands this tough love, buck up, buckle-down advice. But she also badly wants to call a do-over on the last decade. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life slaving away to pay for an education I got for four years and would happily give back," she said. "It feels wrong to me."
So where should college grads like Munna go from here? And who's to blame for their massive debts? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments box below.