Napster, Dropbox, Kinko’s, Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Dell, Google, Reddit, Snapchat, Wordpress.
What do these companies have in common?
Yes, they are all incredibly successful, but there is an even starker connection. They were all started by college students.
It’s no secret that higher education is commonplace for young entrepreneurs, but in an era where the approximate balance of the nation’s student loans is growing by $2,762.27 a second, potential entrepreneurs could be holding back from pursuing their business ideas.
At this year’s Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America 2016 meeting, former President Bill Clinton and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson discussed just that -- the connection between America’s entrepreneurial future and the $1.2 trillion Americans hold in student loan debt.
Students have broad access to entrepreneurship in higher education, but perhaps don’t have the means to actually apply those teachings to business opportunities. Studies show that college-educated adults who graduated with no student debt have seven times the average net worth of a young adult that graduates college with debt.
Clinton suggests the problem lies in the structure of the student loan process.
“A college loan is the only loan you cannot refinance, which I think is insane,” he says. “Your education is more of a lifetime asset than any home you’ll ever own.”
This is a roadblock, more often than not, for minorities.
More than 40 percent of African-American families have student debt, generally taking on around $10,295, according to a 2013 study by the Urban Institute. Twenty-eight percent of white families held debt, averaging $8,020.
Women are also taking longer to pay off student debt, according to a report completed this year by the American Association of University Women, despite being more likely to enroll and earning higher grades than most of their male peers.
Jackson suggests “a progressive kind of approach” to the problem, proposing partial loan forgiveness for those who start a business.
“Rewarding individuals for contributions to the private sector isn’t unprecedented”, Jackson says, referring to the EB-5 immigrant investor program, which is similar.
The speakers also said that young adults may be going to college even when they don’t need to, accumulating unnecessary debt.
“We need to re-dignify skills training in this country," Clinton says. "It’s absolutely true that not everyone needs a college degree.”