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College loan debt reaches record high for Americans

Fifty-five percent of U. students take out loans to help pay for higher education

Student loan debt now affects nearly 1 in 5 households across the country — an increase from 15 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2010, according to a Pew Research Center report.

While average indebtedness per household has fallen, the mounting student loan debt comes at a time when many household incomes have fallen, according to the report.

This has led to an increase in student loan debt as a share of total debts owed by each household to 5 percent, up from 3 percent in 2007, the report said.

Jean McDonald-Rash, director of Financial Aid at the University, said via email correspondence that more students are borrowing money now despite the mounting student debt burden.

“In recent years, a larger number of students are borrowing more to meet the cost of higher education,” she said.  

McDonald-Rash said 55 percent of students last year at the University financed their education with loans.

“Each year, as college costs increase and state support for public institutions declines, an increasing number of students at public colleges and universities across the nation — including Rutgers — must turn to student loans as a means to finance their education,” she said.

According to the Pew report, the average amount of student debt owed per household is $26,682, while total indebtedness per household has fallen from $105,297 to $100,720.

This trend could be attributed to households paying off other debts, like credit card debt, while they are unable to reduce student loan debt, according to the report.

McDonald-Rash said many students are forced to use loans to pay for school because of the economic recession, which made college savings a necessity for more pressing issues in many families.

“The national economic downturn that began [in] 2008 has led to an increased number of families facing unemployment, underemployment and an unstable job market,” she said. “For many of these students and their families, borrowing to finance a college education has become the only choice.”

Because of reductions in state support, tuition increases and federal funding for work-study programs, McDonald-Rash said, students have no option but to take loans.

“For many students, federal and private student loans are the only financial aid programs for which they qualify,” she said. “These [work] programs are directed to a smaller, more economically disadvantaged student population.”

McDonald-Rash said Financial Aid reminds students to keep track of their borrowing status and be familiarized with their loans.

“The Office of Financial Aid advises students to remain aware of their borrowing and offers online resources to track total debt and repayment obligations,” she said.

Samantha Straus, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she is thankful she has no student loans.

“I’m personally really lucky that my parents are paying for college,” she said. “All my friends’ [parents] aren’t and they have trouble getting financial aid and loans.”

Straus said after taking out loans, students often end up overpaying because of interest rates.

“Students that take out loans obviously have to eventually pay it back,” she said. “After paying the interest, they owe more money than they actually got.”

Brielle Smith, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she blames tuition hikes for mounting student debt.

“I think it’s unnecessary to charge so much for a school,” she said, “You’re not getting what you put into it.”

Smith said she was concerned for her own situation given the state of the economy.

“There are no jobs, so how are you supposed to pay it back if you can’t get a job after school?” she said. “I don’t know where you’re supposed to get the money from.”

Smith said she believes that schools are expanding too quickly, which results in tuition hikes.

If campus development happened gradually, Smith said tuition costs could be kept lower and could help ease the student debt burden.

“I think we could lower the tuition by not renovating the schools so rapidly,” she said. “They do everything all at once instead of gradually.”

Smith said tuition should remain constant throughout a student’s time in school.

“I think what you come in paying should be what you pay all four years,” she said. “It shouldn’t go up.”

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