It’s almost embarrassing for me to admit that when I graduated from college, I struggled to pay back a $3,000 loan. Yes, I said $3,000, not $300,000. But it seemed like $300,000 to me at the time. Now, I know how lucky I was. Back then, I was able to fund most of my college education through grants. Of course, the price of tuition was nowhere near today’s average five-figure fee. I could and did choose not to live at home, even though it would have helped me stretch my meager first salary and accelerate my repayment plan.

That’s why Shane O’ Brien wants to live with his parents. The 26-year-old junior planner for the City of Brockton takes home a good salary — $59,000 a year. But the 2013 graduate of UMass Amherst says his school debt makes it tough to manage his living expenses. I know this because he shared his dilemma with the Brockton City Council, details laid out on Excel spreadsheets. As Brockton’s Enterprise newspaper reported, O’Brien asked the city council to waive the requirement that all city employees must live in the city. He hoped to move in with his parents in Newport, Rhode Island, save his rent (which just went up $50 a month), and pay down his school loans faster. The city council turned him down in a 7-3 vote. In an earlier discussion, Councilor-At-Large Winthrop Farwell explained why they couldn’t make an exception to the rule. “We’re going to open the floodgates,” he said. "It just isn’t fair.”

A nationwide study commissioned last year by the Boston nonprofit American Student Assistance surveyed young workers — millennials — carrying student debt. They were between 22 and 33, and over half of them said they worried about their student loans all the time or often. Four out of five said they would commit to an employer for five years if they would help them pay off their loans. Making a bad situation worse, 11.5 percent of all student borrowers default on paying back the loans.

The Department of Education hires its own debt collectors, so-called loan servicers, to get money from defaulters. But some have been accused of violating the rules for collection with threatening tactics. Massachusetts and other states are actually suing the department to protect students from alleged violators. But two weeks ago, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put those states on notice that the department would back the debt collectors. DeVos argued that the state's protection efforts violated federal law. So now it’s official: Students who owe massive student loan debt are caught between a rock and a hard place.

And there is a long-term economic impact. The National Center for Education Statistics confirmed 60 percent of millennials from 2002-2012 had borrowed for school — part of the total student loan debt, which now stands at 1.4 trillion.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a plea to let borrowers like Shane off the hook for their debt. I am alarmed that we’re not recognizing the consequences of potentially crippling an entire generation of the best and the brightest. Is this what we want for the future leaders of the nation? The ones whose talents and brain power we desperately need to compete in the world? Surely, we can do better. I’m certain this can’t be how we make America great again.