My College Questions

Enrollment in college and the amount of student loan debt are at an all-time high. See where two millennials at the University of South Carolina fall into the student debt narrative.

 
 

College debt is a burden that affects multiple generations, not just millennials. However, the millennial generation is a generation plagued by it. After all, they are the most educated.

I could give you every valid statistic to back up this claim and weave it all into a narrative that could put you to sleep at any given time of the day. But that reads more like a term paper, doesn’t it?

Instead you’ll hear from some of the people living with this debt, and how they feel about college debt, and how they feel they fit into the narrative.

Nickel and Dimed

Alejandro Rodriguez is a mechanical engineering student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. His persistence throughout high school earned him a full ride to USC to pursue his bachelor’s degree.

But that full ride didn’t last for long.

In his third year, tuition cost went up to the point that his scholarship no longer covered all his tuition expense. Rodriguez now must pay out of pocket to continue attending the university, and that includes taking out loans. But, he feels that much of what he pays to the college goes to “unnecessary fees.”

“A lot of what you pay doesn’t go to just classes, it goes to stuff that I don’t even use,” Rodriguez said.

He’s right. If you look at your tuition and fees broken down there are fees such as “technology fees” that can cost around $200. The figure could be more depending on your classes and your degree program. That fee encompasses access to certain technologies offered in the college that you’ll have classes in. But the fee shouldn’t be mandatory for all students, Rodriguez says.

“I think students should have more control over what they pay,” he says.

College Affordability

Zena Shurafa is a Jordanian immigrant majoring in biology at USC. She immigrated to the United States in her pre-teen years with her three older brothers. Her parents followed later. Shurafa believes that college is still affordable.

“Debt is a problem, but it’s not at the point that it’s not affordable,” Shurafa says.

Shurafa has some scholarship money to attend college but she subsidizes the rest through loans. The opportunities that the government gives students, through grants and loans, can make college affordable on some level, Shurafa says. Still, she said, the rise of tuition is a worrisome factor.

“It’s a bit too much,” Shurafa said. “It should be lessened a bit.”

But Rodriguez has a different viewpoint.

“College is extremely unaffordable,” Rodriguez says.

The tuition costs are too much to afford on your own, he says. If he didn’t have his scholarships Rodriguez says neither he nor his family could afford the bill to send him through college.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the time period “between 2004-2005 and 2014-2015 prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board at public institutions rose 33% ...” That’s after inflation.

It doesn’t help that the average American worker hasn’t had a real wage increase in decades. According to Pew Research, “today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power as it did in 1979,” after adjusting for inflation. The same article said that, “what gains have been made, have gone to the upper income brackets.”

“It’s more difficult to make money to provide for a family and to pay for an education,” Rodriguez says.

Making money would prove even more difficult with the large amount of student debt that many graduates now carry. According to a recent Forbes article, “Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category  behind only mortgage debt  and higher than both credit cards and auto loans.”

The Takeaway

The bottom line is that regardless of the “affordability” of colleges this mix of mounting student debt and stagnant wages doesn’t paint a beautiful picture. It creates a rather bleak outlook. With student debt becoming only second to mortgage debt, college has entered the realm of high-dollar financial investments. It begins to raise a lot of questions.

Think about it. What does that mean for home buying? Why would a college graduate, with the burden of his or her debt, proceed to enter into more debt through the purchase of a home? Is that why we’re seeing a drop in millennial homeownership?

Regardless of what questions are raised there remains a crucial fact: college debt is at an all-time high, and tuition is steadily climbing along with it. And the millennials like Alejandro Rodriguez and Zena Shurafa are bearing the brunt of this debt, just as they are launching into the world. And that combination has financial ramifications that can last a lifetime.

 
 

May 1, 2017


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