August 7, 2013

The stress of college debt extends far beyond getting the diploma

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Krizia Vance is a senior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She will graduate this spring with thousands of dollars of debt.

Krizia Vance is a senior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She will graduate this spring with thousands of dollars of debt.

By Krizia Vance/For CU-CitizenAccess.org — College is an investment that many people see as a chance at a better life or a dream career. While it may be a smart investment, it’s a pricey one that could leave many college students in a financial bind years after they receive their degree. On one hand, it’s no surprise that many students are taking out various loans as that “quick fix” to pay for their college education. On the other hand, student loans are proving to be the bane of their existence post-college.

Student loans have recently been a major topic of conversation. President Obama is expected to sign a bill that would lower the current 6.8 percent interest rate on loans, which doubled from 3.4 percent after Congress failed to make decision before a July 1 deadline.

In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal reported that only four in 10 college students successfully pay back their direct federal student loans. Direct student loans are administered through the Department of Education with an interest rate of 6.8 percent.

In the article, Mark Kantrowitz – publisher of Edvisors.com – said that because states have been forced to cut funding that includes educational aid, students are faced with loans debts that rise faster than their paychecks.

According to a report by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) released in May, “there are more than 38 million student loan borrowers with over $1.1 trillion in outstanding debt.”

The possibility of drowning in thousands of dollars of debt is a reality that many college students will face on their graduation day. Especially in a bleak job market, the prospect of paying off the debt one day is proving to be more of a challenge than the actual grind of college.

In my personal situation, I believe this to be true. I will be graduating next spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in global studies. I have the insane dream of being a foreign correspondent in Latin America – not exactly the career with the best financial payout. I currently take out a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan that sets me back $2,000 every semester. Although $4,000 for an entire school year doesn’t seem like much, consider being stuck paying back a $16,000 loan with a 6.8 percent interest rate on an extremely modest journalist salary.

And, that’s if I’m lucky enough to start earning a salary once I graduate.

Back in 2008, during the beginning of the great recession, the government intervened on the behalf of the lagging credit market to aid lending by private institutions. This is where the struggle between students and loans began, as students found themselves in fragile job markets with staggering amounts of loans.

Five years later, the student loan situation seems to paint an even darker portrait. College once provided the idyllic image of achieving a major milestone in one’s life. One graduated, got employed, and then was able to pursue a multitude of options without the staggering loan debt. The CFPB now cites six potential areas where student loans can potentially be burdensome: with homeownership, with entrepreneurship, with retirement security, with health care, in the teaching professional and in rural areas.

To anyone familiar with debt, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these are the areas most affected by student debt.  To be a homeowner and a small business owner, one needs loans to get started. No money saved up? Then, say goodbye to that retirement community in Florida; you’ll be working until you die. Sick and need to go to the hospital? Say hello to even more debt. Be a teacher; be in debt.

Not everyone goes into college and considers all the long-term consequences of student loans. Though I feel that I can possibly pay back mine someday, the reality is daunting. I will be stuck trying to pay mine back for years.

For my parents and their generation, college was a way out. My mom, an immigrant from Colombia, went through college on loans and paid them off, but eventually she achieved the “American Dream.” As for myself, I feel as though college will not mean achieving the same dream. It means being in loan debt and in a bad job situation.

The situation hits close to home for others at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well. In a recent article published in The Daily Illini, Chris Keel – a mechanical engineering student – said, “As a generation with more student debts and high cost of living, it is difficult to manage my limited finances.”

The Daily Illini’s Zara Sikander also wrote that more than 15,000 students at the University use subsidized loans annually, and that 45 percent of students rely on federal loans – both unsubsidized and subsidized.

Keel may be going into engineering, a field that is booming with more job stability than journalism, but the situation is the same for both Keel and me and many other college students today. The stress of college no longer ends once you get the expensive piece of paper. It only begins.