Student Debt On the Rise

JESLYN LEMKE
The Easterner Online
Eastern Washington University, Cheney

It’s the question that haunts every high school senior, the fervor behind every scholarship application, the reason for so many jobs held in a college town.

College graduates may be choosing higher-paying professions simply so they can pay off their steep student debts, according to a report released two weeks ago by the Washington Student Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG).

The report claims that the heavy loans are possibly the result of a number of recent cutbacks within the federal government.

“Debt has an impact on the professions students choose,” said campus organizer Blair Anundson for WashPIRG. “The fact that Americans across the political spectrum recognize the need to educate our children and care for the elderly, but that loan debt is impairing the ability of college graduates to go into the professions that will be fulfilling these functions.”

The average undergraduate student leaves college with $17,000 in loans, according to the report.

“On top of the financing challenges already facing students, this February the U.S. Congress passed the largest cut to the student loan programs in history, taking $11.9 billion to help pay for tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans,” said Anundson.

The report also showed that the government now gives out 20 percent less money in grants and 20 percent more in loans.

College graduates with heavy debt are more likely to try for higher paying jobs, overlooking jobs with lower pay but that are still vital to the success of America, such as a social worker or teacher.

Because of this, Anundson says, people with less education will take these positions, decreasing the quality of these services.

“We’ll be facing social problems as the result of a poorly educated populace and we will be unable to care for the older generation in the manner that they deserve,” said Anundson. “Also, we will be less competitive economically because our workforce will be poorly educated.”

How is this affecting students who are still in college?

“My grades have slipped from 3.7 to 3.3 just by working extra jobs to manage debt-All of my friends have extra loans and credit cards. They’re just finding money to make ends meet right now,” said vice president of the Washington Student Lobby and Central Washington University student Nickalous Reykdal.

As an elementary education major with a minor in middle school math and science, Reykdal is one of many students who are trying to manage their debt and still pursue their career ambitions.

“It’s going to definitely determine where I choose to live,” he said.

He points out that the government has been letting students take out federal loans through private lenders, which profit from the taxes that they charge.

“It’s turned higher education into a business,” said Reykdal.

He says that if the government were to let students take out federal loans through the government, the incurred taxes would return to the government and be passed back out to students and parents.

“I would like to see education become this nation’s highest priority in more than just politicians’ speeches,” said Anundson. “We need to spend our tax dollars on education and not some of the more ludicrous things our government spends money on.”