Rising student debt raising new issues at Elon University

Multimedia Reporting by Erin Valentine

According to President Obama’s speech on Wednesday, there is a new challenge the United States is facing – the growing inequality between the rich and the poor.

A Pew Research Center study last year found that America’s mantra of hard work paying off is disbelieved by over one-third of those surveyed.

One of the budding factors of the growing gap between the rich and the poor is the rise of college student debt. Up 10 percent from last year, and up 25 percent from 2008, debt for recent college graduates is rising with each class and putting many recent graduates in unsound financial positions.

Greg Zaiser, vice president of admissions and financial planning at Elon University and an alum, acknowledges the rise in debt for students.

“I think what’s going to happen in the short term is that colleges and universities are going to say, much like Elon has, ‘We’ve got to focus. We’ve got to spend more time thinking how we can do as much as we’re doing without increasing the cost,'” Zaiser said.

Infographic by Erin Valentine

Infographic by Erin Valentine

Students have some options available on campus to begin lowering their debt while still enrolled.

Julie Prouty, office manager of television services at Elon University, has a class requirement for her workers so her recent number of applications has not increased. However, she has found that students who are in charge of their own expenses are often more willing to work. Prouty also stated that without student workers, Elon University’s tuition would be much more expensive.

Jason Puckett, an Elon senior and worker at the Elon Television Office, works the check-in desk with Julie Prouty, office manager, overlooking operations.

Jason Puckett, an Elon senior and worker at the Elon Television Office, works the check-in desk with Julie Prouty, office manager, overlooking operations.
Photo by Erin Valentine

“I would have to have definitely three to four full-time people to make up for the extra hours for the busy times to do the things we do in here,” Prouty said. “Student workers are the backbone of the university. They do a lot of the work. It would be a lot more expensive if a lot of this work had to be done by professional staff with benefits.”

Current students are already seeing their future of debt ahead of them and many are unhappy with the rising numbers.

Katie Maraghy, a junior at Elon University, finds that the debt also comes with a considerable amount of stress.

“To compare tuition and room and board today to that of only a decade ago is mind-blowing,” Maraghy said. “Rising student debt coupled with mismanagement and inefficient systems will have students working longer and harder in order to both pay off these amounts and still have money to survive day- to-day. These increased hours and potentially extended retirement age have innumerable and largely unforeseen consequences on a populations efficiency, psyche and general well-being.”

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.03.18 AM

Infographic by Erin Valentine

For some, the horror stories of having loans make them skittish from having too many on their plate. Elon junior Isis Malone is also feeling the stress from her impending debt.

“It shouldn’t be this high,” Malone said. “There should be a way for students to be able to go to school and not feel any extra sense of stress when it comes to graduation. They are already worried if they can find a job or not. It makes me nervous to ask for a loan; that I will be forever in debt if I do.”

Another Elon junior, Kyle Koach, sees the future widening gap cause more harm in society.

“I think the raising college prices are hurtful to many Americans,” Koach said. “Going to college isn’t something you can forgo in this century. It is vital if you want to have a career. The fact is students are going to have to put up with four years of inflated prices because they have no other option.”

Koach has a special opportunity where his family’s support will allow him to graduate without too much debt to bear on his own.

“My family has been putting money aside for as long as I can remember to pay for this,” Koach explained. “It’s such a great last gift they can give me before going out into the real world on my own. I am super thankful for that opportunity because I would not be at Elon if that wasn’t the case.”

Some freshmen who have just entered in to college are feeling apprehensive about the expected further rise in debt.

Ashley Bohle, a freshman at Elon, is thinking not just about her future debt, but also how the United States could go about fixing the situation.

“Honestly, we have not had great job opportunities and our government is not doing a lot to help,” Bohle said. “Our youth are going to have to make political changes first. We need to start thinking about hard work and using that mindset to create new jobs to keep the workforce strong. Personally, I am fortunate enough for my parents to support my education. But I know what hard work entails. My friends have on-campus jobs. I have had consistent summer jobs. My parents have showed me hard work by paying their own way through their collegiate experiences.”

Graphic courtesy of University Communications

Graphic courtesy of University Communications

Some recent graduates are already feeling the effects of their student debt and loans.

Becky Wickel, a 2013 graduate from Elon University, has found fault in the communication about the reality of loans and student debt.

“I believe there is a lack of communication in high school about the consequences of debt,” Wickel said. “Students make decisions about college based on so many factors, and cost is not always a top priority. With loans readily available, it’s easy for students to choose to just pay for it later, when they don’t really understand what implications that might have later, when it comes to buying a home or starting a family. Taking out a loan requires very little education for students, it’s easy to sign your financial life away. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to student debt, but unfortunately, it seems like many students don’t consider what they will be paying for in the years to come.”

Wickel acknowledges that as soon as she has to begin paying her loans in January, her lifestyle will have to be altered drastically.

“I’m living it right now,” Wickel explained. “I won’t start making loan payments until January, but based on my current budget, they will likely keep me from living the life I want. I understand I must make sacrifices, but those shouldn’t be the ability to save for my retirement, for example.”

Another 2013 graduate from Elon University, Mariah Czap, has no debt, but calls out the further issues student graduates could run in to.

“I was lucky enough to come out of college with zero student debt, which I’m extremely grateful for,” Czap said. “The ironic thing though is because the economy is still kinda sucky and young people feel the need to extend their education into graduate programs to secure a substantial job, they then put themselves in more debt for the sake of education.”

Current students will have to wait to graduate to see what their final debt will be and recent graduates will have to watch to see the effects of their four years of education on their wallets.

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