Student Loan Debt

After taking out student loans in pursuit of their college degrees, many UA alumni and students face the burden of paying off their debt while attempting to start their lives as independent adults.

U.S. student debt totals $1.71 trillion, with 45.3 million student borrowers owing an average of $37,691 each, according to a report from EducationData.org. The annual student loan debt growth rate is 23.6% and outpaces annual increases in tuition costs by 353.8%.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, President Joe Biden has proposed canceling $10,000 of student loan debt for each U.S. student debtor, according to The White House. Some Senate and House Democrats have called for Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt, to help alleviate the national student debt crisis.

Libby Greener is a 2019 UA graduate and current graduate student studying music composition at the University of South Carolina. She has been borrowing subsidized loans, for which the federal government pays interest accrued while the borrower is in school and for six months after graduation, every semester since 2015. Greener estimates she will be able to pay off her $69,000 loan balance when she is in her 50s.

“Whenever I first came to college, I was honestly kind of scared to take out loans,” Greener said. “(The loans have) been helping me keep afloat, but I know that I still need to pay them off.”

To work toward repaying her loans, Greener is very cautious about how she spends her money, she said. At times, the financial burden has made Greener question whether getting her master’s degree is worth accumulating student debt, she said. However, she said she is glad she is pursuing it, because it has helped her network with and stand out to potential employers and colleagues.

During the 2018-19 school year, 8,588 UA undergraduate students reported using federal student loans to pay for their education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The loan total for these students was $55,389,261.

Valeri Rymer, a fifth-year student majoring in music education, has been taking out $7,500 per year–totaling $37,500– in subsidized loans since August 2017. Rymer recently discovered that she is passionate about music production and sound technology, but her debt has made her wary of exploring this passion.

Rymer said she thinks it would take her about two years to train and complete an internship for a career in music technology. However, she plans to search for a job within her current degree field immediately after graduation, because she wants to quickly start working to help her pay off her loans in the next 25 years..

“If I’m already having to pay back student loans at the same time I’m trying to pursue a different form of education, along with paying for stuff like food, bills, and shelter, it’s just going to be impossible,” Rymer said. “I’ll need to get a job with my degree and will not be able to pursue (music technology).”

Ben Hepler, a UA graduate and current law student at the University of Colorado, has taken out several unsubsidized loans, which begin accruing interest as soon as the money is borrowed, and a direct PLUS loan, a type of low-interest loan offered to graduate students by the U.S. Department of Education. Hepler has accumulated $120,000 in student debt and plans to take out another $50,000 in loans next year.

Hepler said his student debt is a heavy burden on his shoulders, and he does not think a $10,000 cut would help him much.

“Obviously any dent (a cancellation makes) is helpful, but It just feels like taking a tablespoon to the ocean and trying to empty it,” Hepler said.

Greener said the cancellation of $50,000 of her debt would help her immensely, because it would cut what she owes by about 72%. A $50,000 cancellation would erase Rymer’s debt completely, which would allow her to pursue a new career path and live more freely, she said.

Hepler and Rymer said they adhere to strict budgets to save money for student loan payments. Hepler said he hoped to buy a house upon graduation, but he will put aside that dream until he pays off more of his loans.

“(Paying off my loans) would mean I don’t carry this weight on my shoulders,” Hepler said. “(Right now) I feel pretty trapped and it’s intimidating and causes me a ton of stress.”

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