But, I remember I was in senior year of HS and toured a college away from home. Got home and sat down with my parents. I come from a middle class family and while I was a pretty good student in high school, I was in that no mans land of not landing much in the way of scholarships or grants but with my parents not having a ton extra. My parents explained to me that I could live for free with them and attend college locally and graduate with a smaller burden and they could help more living at home, or I could have the traditional college experience for $50k-$100k in loans. Maybe its part of taking a lot of business & accounting courses in high school, but at 17 I was able to calculate the cost of going to college, the interest rates of loans (at the time 7%+), the fact that unsubsidized loans would grow, that tuition always seems to be going up, and that I'd likely graduate close to six figures of debt if I go away for college. I get that many 17 year old may not know the specifics of all aspects of loans, but you'd think they could realize $100,000 is a lot of money and that amount would need to be repaid at some point.
You see, I think it's great that your parents had that discussion with you. Some parents do, and some don't. My husband's parents did - but then, my husband's dad went to college, and had to pay back loans. So he had experience. They basically told him "we cannot afford it unless you take that ROTC scholarship". (Then went on to take out a second mortgage for his sister. But I digress.
My parents were separated and my dad did not believe that girls should go to college. My mother supported my decision to go, but simply said "out of state just cannot happen, you need in state grants". My mother worked at a bank though, so I had that going for me.
My niece and nephew had parents (my sis and BIL) who explained cost of college and how to pay, and as a result, my nephew went to an academy and my niece finished in 3 years. But my BIL went to college, so he was familiar with it.
On the flip side, not everyone was that lucky. I know kids whose parents did not go to college, and regretted it. So they pushed their kids to go because "it's a ticket to a better job". Well, in their generation, that was true. But it's not necessarily true anymore. And as they didn't go, they couldn't give their children guidance on how to choose a school, how to pay for it, and what a reasonably expected starting salary would be for a particular major. My family was in many ways, firmly blue collar and practical. Some families honestly don't know enough to say "well, what are you going to do with an English degree?" (Not that English degrees aren't useful, but you need to think about it - are you going to teach, or write, or ???, and how much do you expect to get paid?)
Note: I didn't take business or accounting in HS.
I ended up attending school locally and worked F/T the first year of college. I burned out a bit after that job and didn't work a whole lot more during college. I didn't make the greatest decisions throughout college in terms of preparing for a career, but the one thing I did was be very frugal. I graduated with a debt in the lowish 5 figures, and I paid that off a year after finding full time work after college.
That's great. I ended up with debt in the low-5 figures too, but it took me 4 years to pay it off, not a year.
I've met so many people that are just unwilling to sacrifice anything. And its rarely one bad decision on its own. As other people have said, it can be a chain effect. Maybe its racking up college debt, then taking out a high interest car loan, on top of having kids and buying all the latest and greatest electronics while taking luxurious vacations. When I hear people who make these decisions cry poverty, it falls on my deaf ears. I feel sorry for the people who work hard, sacrifice, are frugal, and still struggle...but not for those who want everything for nothing and feel like they are entitled to a bail out because of poor financial decision making.
I see these people occasionally too. But you know, it's a fine line. I know a few doctors who went this route...loans, house, kids, etc., but of course, most of them are doing fine. Honestly, some of it is luck - someone majoring in math or accounting - the difference between graduating in a recession vs. not can be a huge difference in earnings over a lifetime. (Say, the difference between graduating in 1991 vs. 1992 or 1993).
What I've seen MORE of is people who truly thought that getting a degree was the only way to a better job, because that's what their parents tell them, and the high schools tell them. But neither of these groups give them the tools to figure out how to pay for it.
It's all fine and good that there are some 17 year olds who are mature enough and lucky enough to make good decisions. But to berate and poke fun at the rest? It seems ridiculously cruel. While we are at it, why don't we make fun at the fat kid whose parents never bought them a vegetable. You know, they are perfectly capable of reading about how to eat better, even if they don't make the decisions in the household.
What I see now at my tech company - hiring people with engineering degrees as technicians, because we can (during the recession). Those awesome starting salaries you read about? We paid our guys $16 an hour, in So Cal, ha ha ha suckers!! They were lucky to find a job. We pay barely above minimum wage to work as our receptionist and to learn our accounts payable. But we *require* a college degree, which doesn't come free. Note: these jobs NEWLY require a degree, they didn't always. Now we get to let kids get into debt, to even keep the status quo jobs.
When there are changes in economies (such as recessions), and changes in the job front (such as outsourcing)... it looks like the feeder path (education) is a little bit slow to respond. So you have people going IN to the feeder path of college, and taking out loans ... but they come out to a changed world, in many respects. My college buddy didn't expect to graduate in a recession, and spend a year + working as a temp in the DC area, because that was literally the only job she could find. I remember when our alma mater called asking for a donation (we were also roommates after college). She gave them the exact date when she would finish paying off her loans, and told them to call back on that date.