Reporter's Notebook: A father's perspective on student loan debt

Tackling student loan debt

If you're a parent, chances are you'd do almost anything to make your child happy. I do. I'm an indulgent dad with both my kids. Too indulgent? Sure, but I can live with that. I have great kids. I'd do almost anything for them. You can't deny the tug of evolutionary biology.

Along comes this dilemma of college, student loans and unfathomable debt -- the issue we've been reporting about all week on the "CBS Evening News." Teenagers and their families chase the college dream, and in some cases, the dream college. But the price tag is exorbitant.

Most families, even if they've saved in 529 plans, have to borrow big. Six-figure debt can move from daunting to overwhelming. Teenagers or their families, down the road, end up in a hole so deep it feels like the center of the Earth. 

America's student debt crisis is multi-generational and alters futures, often for the worse. Younger borrowers postpone the milestones of young adulthood: marriage, having kids, buying the first house. Older borrowers grapple with debt that shreds retirement plans. Their big monthly payment reminds them of college as much as looking at their diploma. 

Is there an element of personal responsibility to all this? Of course. When you sign a loan document, you're making a sober promise to repay the obligation. You're supposed to have grasped its affordability and consequences. Yet the college experience has become so expensive, so unaffordable for most families, millions of people feel stuck between borrowing more than they reasonably should and not going to college at all.

The response from viewers to our series was overwhelming. We had thousands of online responses -- people sharing their own drama with student debt that has shadowed them for years. And I can relate.

Our daughter, our academic rock star, is graduating this month from a fantastic school. She had a transformative four-year experience there. She took advantage of so many on-campus opportunities, more than her father ever did at a similar phase in his life. What she learned in college about the world and about herself has readied her to launch into her next life's adventure. We're so proud of her. But look, no question, it has been expensive. (And don't get me started on schools like hers that have bloated endowments and still charge premium prices.)

My wife and I agreed to pay for it because we didn't want our daughter stuck with that debt. Paying it off will take us a while, long past her graduation, but we'll make it work. Clearly though, as our three-part series on student debt showed, millions of families feel as though they will never pay it off. Their college debt has proved as life-changing as college itself.

Watch the "CBS Evening News" series "Life & Debt":

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.