Friday, June 10, 2011

Learning is Expensive

It's no lie that many people come to Korea to teach English as a way of saving money and repaying university student loan debt.  With the costs of higher education rising every year due to education budget cuts, students are forced to take out more and more loans to cover costs that scholarships and grants can no longer match.

An advantage that American students have over Korean students is that 70% of colleges and universities in the US are public, and thus costs are lower with high levels of aid being met.  In Korea, most institutes of higher education are private, so students are left paying high costs with little to no help.  Scholarships in Korea are given based on grades alone, rather than other merits and talents.  As a result, students who have to work to foot their tuition costs find themselves at an academic disadvantage to their scholarship-based, non-working peers.

This article from the Korea Herald comments on the increasing number of Korean students who find themselves buried under millions of won (thousands of dollars) of university debt with no real way to get out from under it.  Sounds like a familiar situation, right?  Many students have defaulted on their university debt simply because they cannot earn enough money to make loan payments.  

Unlike Westerners who come to Korea to teach and save money, what options do Koreans have for getting out of debt?  Minimum wage in Korea is astonishingly low compared to the US (about 3.50 an hour).  At those rates, and with the costs of living rising, how long would it take for a Korean university graduate to repay a 12 million won debt?  

For me, one of the reasons I came to Korea was to save some money and start repaying my student loan debts.  I also wanted to go into teaching, so this was a way to wet my feet and see how I really liked it.  The fact that the lifestyle is convenient and cheap has encouraged me to stay a little longer and save more money.

What are your thoughts?  Did you come to Korea to save money and repay student loan debts?  Should the government do more to help students with loan debts after finishing school?

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