We’ve heard recently that student loan debt in the United States tops credit card debt. In fact, two thirds of college graduates wind up with some kind of debt that averages about $25,000.
Filmmakers Serge Bakalian and Aurora Meneghello created Default: the Student Loan Documentary, which is currently on a national tour, and played recently at the San Francisco Indie Fest.
The film looks at a handful of borrowers whose debt has climbed so high in the years following their college graduation, that their only choice is to default on their loans, put them into forbearance. I spoke with Bakalian about the film, and the reactions he’s getting from audiences around the country. He’s currently fundraising for a follow-up film, in which he will do updates on the featured borrowers from Default.
Check out some highlights from the interview below, or listen to an in-depth version here.
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Youth Radio: What were some of the most shocking things that you learned while making the film?
Serge Bakalian: It was quite common for borrowers and grads to have loans of about 100 - 150 thousand dollars especially if they went to grad school, or law school or med school. When we went to college campuses, we were just asking students randomly, who are they borrowing from, what’s the interest rate, who much do they owe, how much do they think they’re going to pay when they come out of college --- and across the board, regardless of [whether we were at a] public or private school, students did not know, or didn’t want to know what the situation was. That’s a very frightening place to be. You have these 17 or 18-year olds, with their eyes wide open, getting ready to go to college, and fulfill a dream. They really trust their financial aid officers and their universities, that they have their best interest in mind, and unfortunately we’ve found that’s not the case.
Youth Radio: What’s one thing that you want to change about how our system currently works?
SB: I would love to see in this country better fiscal education especially for young people. I don’t mean by the time they get in college - that’s too late. Unless you have parents that really stress financial education, we don’t seem to give that to young people in this country. That’s something that just makes no sense. You need to learn about basic concepts of interest rates and loans. We’re not taught those things.