I think I read somewhere that it's forbidden to become a monk or a nun when one is in debt. Is this correct?
If so, this would force young westerners who are not from rich families and who want to ordain to either skip college entirely or to wait for a very long time before they ordain because of the high cost of college loans.
I won't want to become a monk for a while still, but that's okay because it will take me a while to pay off my loans. I need to pay off my loan before I could even do a three-year retreat. Eh, I need to get more clever with my finances and cut my spending to the barest subsistence levels.
Debt is a new form of enslavement.
A certain segment of the population in order to maintain a certain standard of living will inevitably have to go into debt and thus become servants of the system. If they don't work, the bills and mortgage don't get paid and they are punished severely for it.
Unfortunately just getting an education is often a debt sentence. I know this for myself all too well. If you don't have an education you can expect limited work opportunities and travel is also restricted (try getting a work visa in a foreign country without having some kind of educational credentials).
According to the Vinaya, you are not supposed to ordain if you have debt.
That being said, so many rules of the Vinaya are openly ignored and/or circumvented. Even simple things like eating in the evening which is actually inappropriate. You just call it medicine meal and, er, it is medicine and not really
In any case it is prescriptive and not descriptive.
In my case in Canada by federal law you can't declare bankruptcy on your student loans until you're out of school for eight years. So even if you want to ordain and are willing to write off your debts forever by declaring bankruptcy, it isn't by the law possible.
I suppose one could exercise skilful means and just "abandon" their loans. The principle behind the action is the same AND actually recognized by the lender, though the formal paperwork will be delayed a couple years.