Hildreth Draws Attention to Student Debt Crisis

Hildreth Institute founder Bob Hildreth came to Boston College to talk about the student debt crisis and how BC students can get involved to help eliminate the issue in a talk sponsored by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College last Wednesday.

Hildreth founded the Hildreth Institute with the goal of increasing awareness among students, families, and higher education institutions about the college debt crisis and ways to eliminate it. He wants to make colleges “#zerodebt” campuses, but said that that can only be achieved with the help of students.

The crisis has led many students to graduate with about $30,000 worth of debt from student loans, according to Hildreth, which continues to build every day with interest. Since students can’t pay off their loans for many years, that interest becomes a major factor in making it more difficult for them to get completely out of debt. The principle loan represents just a quarter of what students end up owning after graduation, according to Hildreth.

He explained that student debt is so troublesome that it affects almost every action former students take in their 20s. Debt is restrictive and limiting, Hildreth noted, making life after college stressful and chaotic. He called student loans “confusing and personable,” and even “embarrassing” because they put students in an uncomfortable position that leads them to a lifetime of financial instability. He also pointed out that most students don’t want to talk about their debt, which is actually a huge problem.

“If we are going to reform the crisis, we need to talk about it.” Hildreth said.

To him, student debt should actually be called “teenager debt,” because students still rely on their parents to help take care of many of their financial needs—something that affects not only the students, but also their parents, colleges, and the national economy as a whole, according to Hildreth.

He said student debt is almost at $1.7 trillion, and top colleges see their students’ debt goes up about 3.5 percent per year, which leads to a 14 percent increase in tuition each year to cover the increases in need-based financial aid.

Hildreth noted that parents are being burdened with not only tuition increases, but the overall debt of students, because they often cosign with their children to help them pay their loans. Unfortunately, many children are just leaving the debt for their parents and taking no responsibility to pay off their loans, according to Hildreth.

The constantly rising tuition is a ripple effect of debt, but that effect extends into the national economy as well, slowing down the housing market and even the creation of new businesses, Hildreth explained. He formed the Hildreth Institute in hopes of helping low-income families send their kids to college by matching what they save. The institute’s overall mission is to eliminate student debt from higher education by replacing the current college financial system with grants and scholarships.

Hildreth said that since colleges need qualified students, those students do have leverage to try to create change.

“It’s not crazy—it could be done,” he said.

He urged BC students to advocate against further tuition increases, specifically to try to get BC, along with hundreds of other universities, to put a cap on tuition. Amherst and Harvard don’t let students graduate without being debt free, according to Hildreth, but he said he believes other universities won’t follow suit if only a small number advocates work for change—that is why Hildreth said he travels nationwide: He wants to ask students to make their voices heard as a collective.

Numbers compiled by the Hildreth Institute indicate that a fundraising campaign is the first step needed to start this movement and raise awareness. If BC’s endowment increased by .6 percent, it would be enough to replace federal loans, according to Hildreth. He noted that there are many steps can be taken to move toward the elimination of “teenager debt,” such as signing petitions, protesting, registering to vote, using social media, and having on-campus events to raise awareness about the issue.

“Take whatever is in you that got you to come tonight to move you to take another step, and find interest in us,” Hildreth said. “Be an advocate and activist for yourself, and the next generation.”

Featured Image by Taylor Perison / Heights Staff