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CAP reports total student debt at $1 trillion

Student loan debt is at an all-time high reaching a total of $1 trillion this year, according to a study released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress. GRAPHIC BY MICHELLE JAY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Student loan debt is at an all-time high reaching a total of $1 trillion this year, according to a study released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress. GRAPHIC BY MICHELLE JAY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

As student loan debt totals $1 trillion, according to a recent report, the government must increase its efforts to decrease the cost of higher education nationwide to prevent students from opting out of college, said Boston University economics professor Kevin Lang.

“There are a number of things that can be done and seem to be relatively low-cost,” he said. “The most promising of these is replacing private loans that are guaranteed by the federal government with direct loans from the federal government.”

Wednesday, the Center for American Progress released a report finding student loan debt currently totaling $1 trillion.

Of the 35 million student and ex-student borrowers, 13 percent defaulted on their loans in 2009, according to the report.

“It is time for federal policymakers to take action,” the CAP report stated. “We should enact meaningful reforms that include an interest rate reduction and that provide a way for private loan borrowers to consolidate their debt into the federal student loan program.”

Lang said while college students and high school graduates continue to value obtaining a degree, some may believe taking on debt to attend college is too great a risk.

“People are looking at the very high economic returns from graduating college despite the tough labor market for recent college graduates,” he said. “But weighing against that is the concern about the risk — ‘what if I don’t get a job, what if I don’t get a good job and I have all these student loans?’”

While student loan debt continues to grow, governmental financial support for institutes of higher education has decreased, Lang said.

“Higher education serves a fairly small segment of the population and you don’t have to stop offering higher education, you can just increase fees or tuition depending on the state,” he said. “It’s a fairly easy political place to cut [spending].”

High rates of interest also cause recently graduated students financial stress, according to the report, with the average interest rate on unsubsidized federal student loans currently at 6.8 percent.

“With relatively low cost, you could allow students with federally guaranteed loans to refinance into the federal student loan program,” Lang said. “For those who are paying high rates of interest, it could be a win-win situation.”

Jesse Crane, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, said overwhelming student debt hurts not only recent graduates, but also the entire U.S. economy.

“Having young people be able to come out of college and start businesses — or invest or save — is good for the economy,” Crane said. “It helps build the housing market and generally encourages the flow of money.”

He said the prospect of finding a job directly after graduation is his primary concern.

“I’m actually desperately trying to get an internship so I can then get a job when I graduate and pay off my debt,” he said. “It’s definitely on my mind.”

Danielle Elefritz, a College of Communication sophomore, said the government should attempt to help students with loans to decrease national debt.

“It’s a lot of not being able to get good jobs right off the bat,” she said. “Tuition keeps going up and interest rates are high. We don’t have time to get it paid back — I’m going to be in debt for the rest of my life.”

Elefritz said she plans to go to graduate school to increase her chances of finding employment after she graduates, even though doing so will likely add to her debt.

“I want to go to graduate school so I can go to law school which is a more specific field because [I am] just doing environmental studies and journalism,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to find anything in either of those fields, so I figured I should become more specialized.”

Since the prospect of loans after graduation could discourage people from attending college, the government should prioritize making higher education more affordable, said Danielle Martinez, a CAS junior.

“It [student loan debt] is definitely discouraging people from going to college,” she said. “Where I’m from, people worry about even going to local schools because they don’t want to take on the debt — they don’t want to risk it.”

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