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Dealing with debt after graduation

debt
(Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)

Student loan debt is at a record high in the U.S. for both graduate and undergraduate students.

According to the Institute for College Access & Success’ project on student debt, national student debts in 2013 averaged out to $22,000 for undergraduate students and nearly $29,000 for grad students.

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Last year at CSU, the average loan debt for undergrad students was around $21,000. For graduate students, it was almost $29,000. For students getting their professional degree, the average debt was exactly $121,360 as published in the 2014-2015 CSU Financial Aid Guide.

“I am very concerned with the amount of student debt that students are currently accumulating in this country,” said Margarita Lenk, an associate professor in the Departments of Accounting and Computer Information Systems in the College of Business. “As a society, we need to be intentional in a moral sense about what we want for our graduates to have as a quality of life after studying at our universities.”

According to Tom Biedscheid, director of CSU’s Student Financial Services, it is important for students with debt to understand the average salary of jobs in their career field before graduating. In the 2012-2013 CSU First Destination stats, the average pay at first destination jobs for CSU grads last year was roughly $45,000. Although debt repayment plans are available, most of them require monthly payments for at least 10 to 20 years.

“It’s going to take forever to pay back my loans,” said Jessica Knittle, a senior English major. “A lot of students go into not knowing how much interest it’ll gain and how they’ll have to pay it back — I sure didn’t, and now I’ll be paying off debt till I’m 50 years old.”

For a lot of students like Knittle, the question then becomes: is it worth it? Is acquiring debt that takes a lifetime to pay off worth the education and college experience?

“It’s incredibly worth it,” Biedscheid said. “If you look at someone with less than a high school diploma, the average salary is about $28,000, but the unemployment rate is almost 15 percent — the average salary of someone with a bachelor’s degree is around $45,000 and the unemployment rate is 3.8 percent.”

Biedscheid has seen a rise in students asking this question and because of this, he’s been going around to northern Colorado high schools explaining how important college really is.

“Nearly 22 percent of people with a high school diploma only are living in poverty,” Biedscheid said. “One thing I like to tell the high schoolers I visit is that 18 percent of those people with only high school diplomas live at home with their parents — that’s usually enough incentive to get them to go to college.”

And, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, college graduates are more satisfied with their lives. The survey showed that 86 percent of graduates with bachelor degrees were on a career path they enjoyed, and 53 percent said they were “very satisfied” with their current job. This opposes people without college degrees drastically, with only 57 percent on a career path and only 37 percent who said they were satisfied with their current job.

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“It’s devastating seeing how much debt students acquire these days,” Lenk said. “But, there is hope and there are ways to live your life after graduation without debt being your main concern.”

Collegian Reporter Rick Cookson can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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