Student debt increasing, costs versus benefits of college weighed

By Alissa Groeninger

Catie Collins knows her first few years after graduating will be financially tough because of her debt.

“It’s something I think about constantly. It’s inevitable,” she said.

Collins, sophomore in Education, is not alone, as the average University senior will graduate with $17,057 in debt.

Tuition is rising, forcing students to take out more loans, and people are earning less making it harder to pay back loans.

“People choose and change their majors when they (see) how much you make,” Collins said.

“(People choose jobs) because of where the money is at.”

According to a recent report by College Board, the value of earning any college degree, even in traditionally profitable industries, has been called into question.

Prior to the past few years, when the economy turned for the worse, college graduates made significantly more than people who entered the work force straight from high school.

The gap between their earnings grew and grew until recently, when the gap started decreasing.

The difference between the mean incomes of college graduates and high school graduates fell 96 percent between 2000 and 2007.

Though professions such as law or engineering may cause more debt, College Board reported students in these industries found paying debt back easier than their peers in education or social services.

“There’s some people that just want to get a law degree for the monetary (value) and the prestige of the profession,” said Amber Rudolphi, senior in LAS who is prelaw.

Collins said she decided not to attend a private school because the debt she would incur would not be worthwhile.

“Even here it is expensive to come to school,” she said.

Fifty-eight percent of students graduate with debt, according to Claude Walker with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, a state-sponsored organization that works with college students on financial programs.

“That’s a tough way to start a career,” Walker said.

College students are incurring more debt now because tuition costs have skyrocketed and less money is available for financial aid, forcing people to take out loans, he added.

College Board studies have reported that students should be wary of private loans and rely more strongly on government loans.

“(Government loans) have better terms for the borrower and lower interest rates,” Walker said. “Be a good consumer. Shop around.”

He added that private loans often do not have grace periods and within one month of graduation people have to start paying loans off.

Private loans often have higher interest rates than government loans because private companies have to make profits for their shareholders.

Despite this growing problem most people still see unparalleled value in a college education because college graduates still earn more than those who only graduate from high school.

Collins said people who attend college meet other people and learn to live on their own in addition to learning skills for their potential career.

“The benefits … far outweigh the amount of debt that I have to worry about,” Collins said. “I’m really excited and want to teach even though it’s extremely expensive.”

Rudolphi said people have experiences in college that they could not have anywhere else.

“You’re bound to gain new life experiences,” she said.