You might have seen the hashtag #imtellingfafsa trending lately. FAFSA, a free application for federal student aid, is the form college students fill out to request financial assistance from the government. (Let’s remember that many other countries greatly or fully fund advanced studies for their citizens.) As students around the country began filling out their paperwork this fall, they started joking about the kinds of minor expenditures that could impact their eligibility for federal aid. You bought Starbucks? #ImTellingFAFSA. That kind of thing. Some of the banter is simply riotous.
Beneath the laughter, though, is a sad commentary on the state of American higher education. The decision to pursue post-secondary education is–for many young people–a decision to go into long-lasting debt. The prospect dissuades some. It leaves others bitter and confused about the quality of their education when they don’t immediately land new high-paying job upon graduation. The hashtag isn’t a comedy routine. It’s a coping mechanism, a natural and heart-wrenching attempt to laugh in the face of a stubborn injustice.