Student Debt Will Death of the Students to Come

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Tuition and Student Debt: The Future of Universities Hangs in the Balance
Jasmine Wright
Student Debt is a hot topic this season because of the failing economy and remarkably high unemployment rate. The question on most students’ minds is, “is a college degree still worth the amount that you pay for it?” It’s a hard question to answer for most people because of our bleak reality.
Today in America, those who don’t obtain a college degree rarely have a bright future. Most Americans without a college degree that are now entering the job market will make less than 30,000 dollars a year unless they become Kim Kardashian or dabble in illegal pursuits.
From childhood, we are born and raised with the idea that if we go to college, do well in school, and pay our dues, then we will have a great career and be immersed in the worlds finest things; the American Dream. Where is the American Dream today? With the unemployment rate at 9.1% (or higher) and spiraling  tuition costs, that dream may exist only while we are sleeping.
According to Val Smith, Assistant Director of Financial Aid at UIUC, the numbers of students taking out loans is close to half of the student body and shows no signs of decreasing. In the 2009-2010, 17,554 students (both undergraduate and graduate) took out loans because of the skyrocketing price of tuition. Smith highlighted how debt can build on top of debt: Because of the cold and unwelcoming job market for students, and the perception that you won’t get anywhere without a masters degree, many are driven to graduate school. This pushes many further and further into debt. The significance of this trend has yet to be fully understood.
I spoke with some students around campus to see what others are thinking. Senior in Psychology, Tyeshia Davis shared her knowledge of loans.
“I know many people that have taken out loans for school. I thought that my total in loans after I graduate was too much until I spoke with some people who acquired that much debt in just one year (at this university). Some of these people have to turn to outside lenders because they federal loans and grants aren’t sufficient in covering the cost of their education.”
But what do loans do for a student? Do they keep them enrolled in a university when they have no other means? Yes. Do they also keep students under the thumb of the government and business paying their monthly dues to “the man,” long after they’ve graduated? Yes. Repayment is taking more and more time in our current economy because of the nonexistent or low paying jobs available to new graduates.
So, is a college degree still worth it? Davis doesn’t know anymore.
“I think that it is sad that many people go into debt trying to gain an education because they truly believe in the ideology that having a college degree is necessary to have a good job and make a lot of money. With so many people attending college and so few jobs being created, people are starting to have to work even harder to land a spot at a company of their choice. This makes me believe that pursuing a college degree is a gamble. You not only have to be educated, but you also have to work on your people skills, gain experience through volunteering and interning, build a network, refine your interview skills, and hope that all of this is good enough to impress potential employers.”
Paul Timlin, a junior in broadcast journalism who takes out loans for his housing, is more optimistic.“A college degree still has value, but not at the premium price of over $25,000 a year. Over the last thirty years, tuition prices have gone up tens of thousands of dollars, while wages have increased barely.”
London Walther, a student in Urban Planning, has managed to avoid taking out student loans thanks to his father who started a college fund for him when he was born. Walther sympathizes with those who take out student loans, especially the minorities.
“I believe that the high costs in tuition and high interest rates actually deters minorities and the impoverished from attending college and established universities. The poor who do wish to attend college will often have to settle for community colleges and city colleges in order to get some sort of degree. I feel this is why we don’t see as many African Americans and Latinos at this University as other state schools. They get into the mindset that college is ‘too expensive’ or ‘not for me,’ continuing the cycle. It’s a sad truth.”
While those I spoke with had mixed views about the future, they also suggested some ways to help lower tuition which would inevitably lower student debt.
Timlin suggested, “Tuition prices need to be lowered to match the scale of the current economy. The tuition prices should be proportional to the average earnings or wages in a given state. State public schools are supposed to be funded by our tax dollars, but we cannot even trust our states to provide the schools with the money. As a nation, there needs to be legislation restricting state schools from ballooning their tuition rates because the interest of these schools should not be to make money, but to provide education for the people.”
This method has some merit, however, since it is unlikely that the economy will turn around anytime soon, Davis may have more realistic ideas.
“To reduce student loans we could continue to reach out to alumni for donations, make students aware of scholarships that few people seem to apply to or don’t apply to at all, and maybe increase pay for graduates who have assistantships or fellowships. This creates more an incentive for them to stay in school and do well because they know that they will lose these forms of aid if they do not.”
While the massive reliance on student loans is depressing the value of higher education and increasing debt at the individual level, it also factors into the shrinking of the middle class, greater impoverishment among minorities, and the increased impoverishment of those already in poverty. The true impact of this on the overall US economy is unknown. However, it is clear that the need for student loans is detrimental to future generations. The more expensive school becomes, the more students will be forced to take out loans. When they graduate, students will be one of the first groups to take a hit because of the fluctuating economy. In addition, many will choose not to pursue higher education at all, this will be true especially among minorities.  We need to rally against the rise of state school tuition, especially at the University of Illinois, and be more adamant about scholarships and state tax money going to state schools. Only then will our future graduates have a fair chance of making it in America.

About Jasmine Wright

Jasmine Wright is from the Jackson Park Highlands located in the South Side of Chicago. She attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and now attends the University of Illinois. She is majoring in Broadcast Journalism and minoring in communications. For her future career she would love to be a talk show host... that doesn't only focus on celebrities. Her favorite person in the world is her gorgeous puppy Oliver. Her interests, other than Oliver, are reading, vacationing, and her friends.
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