In considering whether to take on interest-bearing (i.e., ribawi) loans to fund education, Muslim students often think of it as a personal moral decision. In reality, that personal decision can contribute to a much wider problem that affects millions of people in the global economy.
For the vast majority of people who want an education in order to get into the workforce, the 4-year college is no longer a prerequisite (and arguably never was). Which means it is easier than ever to avoid taking on loans to pay the exorbitant tuition of those 4-year colleges and instead opt for cheaper options (e.g., community college, professional schools, etc.) and have comparable expected income upon graduating without any of the crippling debt. The lack of debt makes a HUGE difference when you start working and thereafter, as you enjoy more spending power and, hence, enjoy a higher quality of life. If people really understood this, no one would opt for the 4 years of college in this economy, where the majority of graduates of those colleges can’t even find work in the field of their college major.
It is not always practical or lucrative to make your finance and career choices on the basis of what is halal and avoiding what is haram. But sometimes, market forces make the halal option both practical and lucrative, so take advantage of the blessings Allah has put before you.
NB: I understand there are a handful of careers that require 4 years of college and then graduate school (i.e., medicine and law, less so engineering these days). Only a minority of students pursue those careers. For that minority, the Muslim community should work on developing a scholarship system or non-interest-bearing loan program to fund these students. I know that something like this is already happening in some communities in the US.