Generation Debt

In following up with Bob’s News Cut on Campus series and the discussion about the increasing use of credit cards on college campuses, MPR’s Molly Bloom sent in this series of responses:

It’s no doubt that the job market is tough out there. So we asked students how the changing employment landscape is leading them to change their plans. We expected to hear from students who were shifting majors or changing career paths in hopes of finding a decent job once they graduate.

Instead, we heard from students who are staying in school, signing up for service projects or pursuing special certifications, waiting for the job market to improve.

Ariane Laxo, 22, is double majoring in Interior Design and Music and minoring in Sustainability Studies. She’s studying for the LEED AP exam in hopes that it will make her more attractive to employers. Still, she worries about digging herself into an even bigger hole.

“The largest effect the economy is having on students is rising tuition costs. Student loans are still available, but some students have to take out more private loans (with outrageous interest rates) than before. Between my husband and I, we have close to $75,000 in student loan debt and are always scrambling to cover the cost of tuition that isn’t covered by grants and loans. Plus, as tuition costs go up and we take out more loans, our loan interest payments go up. If it’s difficult to pay interest payments now, what will it be like when we’re paying off our loans?”

Like many students we heard from, Ariane and her husband are buried under a mountain of student debt. But with the job market in such dire straits, staying in school – even if it means taking out more loans – is their most attractive option. They say a graduate degree is necessary to set themselves apart, even if it means they’ll be that much more in the hole when they do find a job.

Sarah Winikoff, 22, is about to graduate with a degree in freshwater ecology. She wanted to get a job with the Forest Service or Conservation Corps., but now she thinks she needs to go to graduate school to be competitive.

“More of us feel like graduate school is the only way we will be marketable to employers. Most of us have no idea if we will be able to get a job after graduation and there is more anxiety than ever around paying off student loans.”

If Samantha Oxborough, 21, can get the loans she needs, she’ll be going to law school at the University of Virginia in the fall. While she’s taking on more debt, she sees her peers trying to defer that first payment by joining AmeriCorps or other government-funded organizations.

Senah Sampong, 24, a student a Minneapolis Community and Technology College, writes that even with increasing debt and a shaky economy, he and his peers have little choice but to continue their schooling. For his generation, debt is simply a fact of life:

“We expect to be poor. That’s really the thing. WE expect to be strapped with heavy debt, and more so once the budget is completed. It is hard to accommodate forces over which one has very limited control. The sense of powerlessness drives the blindness I see at my school, I think. I go to a two-year school. A lot of people have kids to think about, a full-time job to think about. You can’t really let something like this stop you from acting in the present. When you’re up to your turtle neck in debt, stopping isn’t going to help anything. It’s like trying to pull back a bet, when the only way to stem your losses is to keep raising.”

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