Blood for Student Loans

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bloody cap
Illustration by: Kjell Reigstad


Interest in the student loan problem from the media and politicians seems to be ebbing.

The issue does not go away for Joshua Roiland. Every day, money worries grind him down – him and millions of other young adults working through the emotional fallout and shattered relationships caused by debt.

Roiland owes $200,000-plus and earns only $52,000 as a newly minted University of Maine journalism professor. He begins his article on Longreads by describing a 340-mile round-trip drive to a clinic in Lewiston, Maine, that pays him $50 for a pint of his youthful blood.

He’s not seeking pity here either. Roiland provides a clear-eyed picture of feeling trapped in a system that doles out easy money to often-naïve students cloistered in the ivory towers that remove them, only for a time, from the financial realities of the real world. And then they graduate.

About one in four college graduates who took on student debt can’t afford to pay it, based on the average $45,000 salary for graduates, Mark Kantrowitz, the student loan guru, estimates in Money magazine.

Roiland’s compelling article should keep the student loan issue on the front burner. Below are a couple excerpts – but his entire tale is a worthwhile read.

Given my financial constraints, how was it even possible for me to commute back and forth to Lewiston? Don’t I use all my payout [from donating blood] on gas? Yes and no. One thing you learn when you have no money is how to game the system. For example, I learned that even when credit cards only have a dollar or two of remaining credit available, you can pump a full tank of gas on them. …

And it’s true: I could live more modestly. …  Moreover, I didn’t have to go to graduate school or get married or present my work at conferences in order to network for job references, and then hopscotch around the Midwest chasing degrees and jobs.

In short, I didn’t have to live this life.

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Ken Pidcock

Reading this, I tried to imagine how I’d feel if I’d been working while this guy was raising his social status above mine.


If in order to get a student loan, a borrower had to declare a major and list three jobs available to that major and the average starting salary of those jobs, and then could only borrow what s/he could afford, this crisis would disappear. Some colleges would close, or change there economic model, but it is high time common sense entered into the student loan equation.

I read the article this guy wrote and I don’t feel the least bit sorry for him. He chose an impractical major at a private school. At least student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Unfortunately so many people’s takeaway from his story is that the student loan people are the bad guys — they aren’t, it is the colleges charging high tuition for useless programs.


Why blame the victim?

The writer here admits he made mistakes. He was young and dumb once, weren’t we all if we were lucky? What he is reconciling is his expectations versus reality.

He grew up in a world where tenure-track academics don’t have to sell their blood to get by. I did too. Part of our student loan issue stems from young, intelligent people making academic investments which conventional wisdom has always told them would pay off down the road. They find out too late the game (the marketplace) has changed. Does that really make them fools?

Our expectations have not caught up with the reality of our diminished national circumstances, or if you want to narrow it, changes in the halls of academe.

The writer may have a lesson to teach his students, yet. Scorn him if you wish, but look around very carefully at the world you work in. You might be next.

Steve G

Victim? Too strong a word.

I agree the financial landscape for higher ed has changed– for the worse over the last 20 years. It’s ridiculous. You can say it “not fair.” But schools don’t hide tuition costs. And in today’s world you can Google what the average college grad starting salary is and create a valid projection for a future graduate.

So it becomes a pretty simple math equation. If you graduate high school, I presume you can do basic math.

Project your salary and figure out how your student loan impacts that number and for how long.

I believe colleges should walk each student through this process. Might the student make a different choice? Yes.

Better financial education is what these kids need before they make their first tuition payment.

As for Josh, I appreciate him sharing his story and genuinely feel bad for him. I hope others can learn from his mistakes. But bad decisions don’t make him a victim.

    Steve P

    I too wonder why parents aren’t intervening more to discourage kids from crushing debt by assisting with cost/benefit calculations. Reverse mortgages require extensive counseling before acquisition. Why not education loans?

    And student loans have a predatory aspect to them. Why are the interest rates so high when there is a government guarantee? There should be more forgiveness options.

    Given that we already award twice as many degrees as the job market really requires (according to BLS), alternative education options are clearly needed.

Ex-Salesman Mike

I’m not quite sure what the takeaway from his story is. I can think of no one, myself included, who did not make at least a few bad decisions during college. Granted, Josh’s are a little extreme, but I never got to see London, Paris, or Lisbon. Oh well.

As for the whole blood selling sideline, I feel Josh was still making bad decisions there. If you add the mileage, gas, wear & tear to his vehicle, time travelling and time spent there, this had to be a money-losing proposition. As to the quality of people you meet there, it seems they had no other choices for income, and I have an incredibly hard time putting Josh into that category.

I sold plasma when I was an undergraduate college student at BPC (Blood Plasma Components) in West Chester, PA. By doing it then, I was able to graduate debt-free.


Ever since student loans came to play a role in our society it has become a burden not only to the student, it has become a problem to his/her parents too. Fortunately in my case I found a bank which offers low interest rates, but I know many of my friends face this issue. Even if you earn a degree and get a good job you don’t have the chance to use it to you own benefits.

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