Record debt constrains students

As seniors put the finishing touches on their college essays, court teachers for recommendations and pare down their college lists, there’s one thought looming in the back of every student’s mind: Debt.

“It’s stressful enough trying to fill out applications and [writing] essays,” senior Grace Allas said. “But trying to figure out scholarships and how to spend the least amount of money over the next four years just adds to the mess.”

Among experts, there is little consensus on what the exact effect of student debt is on the economy as a whole. However, in the 20 years, the percentage of students graduating with loans that have yet to be paid off has risen from 45 percent to 70 percent. Also, according to a report in September by the California-based John Burns Consulting firm, it was found that 414,000 homes will not be sold because of the rapid rise of student loan debt.

The returns on a college education are being questioned, and more students are being advised to look into alternative pursuits such as gap years and community college. What does this mean for the graduating class of 2015 and their college decisions?

“I’ve been looking a lot more into in-state schools rather than out-of-state because in-state tuition costs a lot less,” senior Enberg Udquim said. “Even within in-state schools, I’ve been leaning towards going to George Mason for undergrad to save money on room and board.”

At the beginning of October, the University of Chicago announced that it would replace student loans offered in its financial aid packages with grants for those receiving need-based aid. Chicago joins a host of schools who are aiming to increase economic diversity and lightening the load of student debt among their student bodies.

While these actions are seen as a step in the right direction, rising debt can also be attributed to uneducated decisions made by students and their families.

“We get caught up with the sticker on the back of the car,” career center specialist Judith Edwards said. “People often think that name recognition equates to a good job. If you utilize the resources provided, network and take advantage of opportunities at any college, you can pay off your loans with a good job.”