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Student debt: a trillion $ dilemma

Whether beginning a career or seeking to keep one going, the competitive edge in today’s job market usually goes to those with college degrees.

by Charlene Crowell
NNPA News Service

Whether beginning a career or seeking to keep one going, the competitive edge in today’s job market usually goes to those with college degrees. In our recovering economy with fewer jobs available than there are people who need them, there is strong motivation to earn degrees. But higher education also costs money – more than many household finances can afford. As a result, many Americans are counting on the potential benefits of higher incomes derived from strong academic credentials against the cost of going in to debt to fund that degree.

The New York Federal Reserve determined that 37 million Americans now owe more in student debt than is owed on either car loans ($730B) or credit cards ($693B) nationwide.

According to Rohit Chopra, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s student loan ombudsman, outstanding student loan debt hit the trillion dollar mark several months ago. In just one year, 2011, federal student loan volume totaled $117 billion.

 “How America Pays for College,” a research report from Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest financial services company specializing in education, found that parents’ income(s) and savings are being stretched as well. For the average American, 70 percent of college funding comes from three sources: grants and scholarships (33 percent); parent incomes and savings (30 percent); and parent borrowing (7 percent). Students invest in their own futures by a combination of borrowing in their own names (15 percent) and working/saving (11 percent).

The Sallie Mae report also found that the recent increase in grant usage occurred among middle and high-income families. Low-income families – with the least financial resources – actually paid more of their incomes and savings for college. Among African-American families, 51 percent borrow for college costs and 35 percent of African-American students take out loans in their own names to attend four-year institutions, both public and private.

Today, the weightiest influence in selecting a college is the financial aid package offered. The value of a financial aid package, according to the Sallie Mae report, was the determining factor for 57 percent of African-American students. Additionally, 52 percent of African-American students live at home while studying to contain costs.

Overall, students who graduate leave campuses with a degree in one hand and a stack of student debt in the other. The average amount of debt new undergraduates amass is $25,000. But for African-American students receiving a bachelor’s degree from 2007-08, 27 percent borrowed $30,500 or more. The highest student loan debt was most common among families with incomes between $30,000 and $59,999.

As young graduates enter the workplace, student debt burdens will likely defer their ability to purchase a home, the traditional gateway to building personal wealth. For their parents, the additional debt of borrowing for their children will probably defer retirement and/or alter their standard of living.

These devastating financial effects have attracted the attention of some Capitol Hill lawmakers as well.

“Student borrowers cannot discharge or even refinance their debts in bankruptcy, regardless of how desperate their situations become. We must set these students free” said U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke of Michigan.

If you or someone you know is experiencing problems with student loan debts, register that concern with CFPB: http://www.consumer finance.gov/.

(Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)


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