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Student debt and movies about college living: Where do they intersect?

By in Culture
Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

Tuition is higher than it has ever been before. Student debt is so rampant that we see ghosts of it reflected in the media we consume.

On Netflix original Hello! My Twenties, we see Jin-myung working three jobs and taking breaks in between semesters to afford school, rent and bills. However, this is just a subplot in a show talking about other aspects of college life such as roommates, relationships and growing up.  

When you think about movie set in college and university, money troubles and stressing about the rent aren’t the first things that come to mind. These movies usually don’t deal with the harsher realities of student living, which might give potential college goers the wrong idea about it. 

The truth about college life is that, despite what you see in the movies, it’s not all partying and fun extracurriculars. With the price of tuition as expensive as it is, if regular students partied as much as students in movies did, they wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in college. Tuition prices in Canada have risen an average of 3.1 per cent every year and in 2019, it rose by 3.4 percent at the University of Saskatchewan. 

We see phantoms of more serious financial issues students face regarding college. It comes up in movies like Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird where Christine falls out with her mother after applying for financial aid to attend the expensive New York art school her mother cannot afford. However, there aren’t many movies out there that fully mirror the complexities of the cost of college.  

The precarious balance between just getting by and drowning in debt is one that students are so familiar with that people are now creating content based on paying off student debt. 

Game shows like Paid Off with Michael Torpey bases its entire premise on paying off peoples’ student loans. We see YouTubers like David Dobrik gifting his friends their entire student loan amount and giving away $20,000 to one very lucky student. Paid Off even has the well-meant but slightly weird tagline of, “I know it’s not everything, but I hope it helps take off some of the pressure.”

Though the tagline is a bit of a joke, it does acknowledge the very serious issue of the stress brought on by student loan debt. 

On the Netflix original show Sex Education, we see highschool athlete Jackson Marchetti put under enormous strain by his mother to excel at swimming so he can gain a scholarship for post- secondary. This culminates in him self-harming to get out of swimming practice when it gets too much for him to handle. 

This may be an extreme case but the connection between mental wellbeing and student debt is one that isn’t talked about enough. Though there has been little research done on the connection between student loans and mental health in Canada, American studies at UCLA found that student loan debt was correlated with worse levels of mental health. 

Despite the whirlwind of issues surrounding student debt, no feasible solutions seem to be rising and media hasn’t offered any ideas, either. Apart from Paid Off, that is. 

However, we can find some coping mechanisms. We can try to laugh about it as musical comedy Avenue Q does, or sing about it like Khalid does in Young, Dumb and Broke, or even try and comfort ourselves with the ubiquitous broke student struggle meal, ramen. 

Tomilola Ojo/ Culture Editor

Graphic: Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

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