TV Review: VICE on HBO – “Student Debt”

Student Debt 2

Credit to VICE/HBO: VICE correspondent, Gianna Toboni interviews Senior Director for Post Secondary Education for the Center for American Progress, Ben Miller.

VICE on HBO, Episode 417 begins with host Gianna Toboni taking a tour of High Point University, located in North Carolina. High Point University boasts an extraordinary resume: voted the No. 1 university in the South by U.S. News & World Report for the past four years, according to the university’s site. High Point University also plays classical music from its speakers because they believe listening to classical music while studying helps you learn more, according to the blurry faced guide that leads Toboni across the expansive campus. She shrugs it off a second later though, “I don’t really believe it, but, hey.”

A strong resume leads to strong debt.

According to the university’s site, tuition sits at $33,405 annually, excluding the $12, 572 for room and dining, and if you’re an international student– there’s a $1,500 fee. High Point University is one of many college’s across the U.S. where tuition exceeds $30,000.

Many students are not ignorant to the price tag that comes with college. As of late, it’s been an ongoing debate within the U.S. presidential election, and among the students themselves. Toboni takes a basic understanding of student debt and cranks it up a notch in the first part of the episode entitled “Student Debt and Fecal Medicine.” (You can watch the other half pertaining to fecal medicine when the episode premieres on June 24th at 11:00-11:30 p.m. ET/PT.)

In an astonishingly vivid view through the camera, High Point has seven pools, almost as many Jacuzzi’s, concierge service, valet, and more. The school, according to Toboni, is pumping billions of dollars into “preparing” their students for corporate America with high ceiling atrium’s and a first class airplane lounge that simulates future business ventures. Really.

VICE brings the numbers as well as the visuals. In the last 20 years, tuition has skyrocketed for students, which leads to more and more student debt. With more high-priced amenities that attract students, the steeper the price. In 2014, student debt clocked in at almost $30,000 compared to 1993, at $15, 400. This means that student debt has doubled in a little over a decade.

The episode continues in the same vein, giving examples like Chaitra McCarty, a school teacher, who attended Wheelock College and is now drowning in $158,000 of student debt, excluding her husband’s student debt.

“How does it make you feel?” Toboni asks her.

“I feel hopeless,” McCarty replies.

For some families, it’s easier to say, “We’ll worry about the money later,” and to sign off on a loan. For others, the impending monthly payments where nearly half of their income can be forced from them for those loans, hesitate. And then there are those where the cost of taking out a loan means they will not go to college at all.

“Student Debt” leads audience members on a factual journey that any student, high school or college, should watch. Toboni does a great job of staying an outsider but leading the insiders to open up and relay their own emotional, financial ruin that can potentially affect milestones in their future, ironically enough.

The irony of the situation creates a tension filled first half of the episode. Student loans are non-negotiable. There is no choice but to pay off student loans, a fact that VICE touches on in a brutal, unforgiving way. There is no let up in information, the factual turmoil, and the “economic emergency” that is student debt. The episode includes several interviews with high profile officials including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. It’s a must see influx of information that is affecting a mass number of families, adults, and current students.

In an emotional short 15 minutes, Toboni shines light on the dark crevices of student debt, and the struggles of students now, students in the future, and where we go from today, onward.

Brooke Pawling Stennett is a college student pursuing a degree in Multimedia Journalism and Creative Non-Fiction in the old Windy City. She tends to lean toward the obsessive side of the tracks when it comes to books and music. She's an avid concert attendee (or at least she tries to!) and rambler. She'd like to travel the world and write about it, but in the only ways she knows how: sarcastically and full of internet jargon. Her opinions are her best ones, especially if they involve boy-bands and Netflix. . .even though she doesn't even have her own account. You can tweet her at @br_stennett and tell her how ridiculous (and totally great!) her opinions are.