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Students deal with debt

Like many college students, Jennifer Collotta, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, is worried about her student loan debt upon graduation. Many UMass students, like her, are unsure of how they are going to pay it all back.

“I’m just going to have to take it how it comes,” she said, “I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it.”

According to Peterson’s Undergraduate Financial Aid Database, 2008 UMass graduates had an average debt after graduating of $21,614, $1,572 less than the national average.

Over the past four years, students have taken out more loans to pay for their higher education than ever before, according to Peterson’s report. Upon graduation, students are attempting to pay off high student debt and trying to find work in a difficult economy.

Former UMass student Brianna Simao is worried about just that. She is currently a junior at Bristol Community College and works 38 hours a week at McDonald’s. As an education major, she’s worried about how she’ll maintain a job in her field.

“It’s going to be hard to keep a teaching job,” she said, “There’s not much security.”

Many students at UMass are working jobs on-campus just so they can finance their education. Nationally, 78 percent of undergraduate students worked while they were enrolled full-time in college during the 2003-2004 school year, according to American Council on Education.

“I have a job, but I’m putting school before work,” Collota said, “There’s too much on my plate. But I’m going to owe about $75,000 by the time I graduate.”

One reason for the increase in student debt is a drastic increase in tuition and fees, according to Gerald Friedman, an associate professor of economics at UMass.

“College tuition has risen much faster than the amount [workers are] actually paid,” said Friedman, “because colleges have been ‘taxing’ affluent students to fund increasing financial aid. They have also been providing more amenities to attract high tuition students, driving up the costs with larger and nicer dorms, better meal plans, more athletic facilities, etc.”

Friedman said that the current state of the U.S. economy will make it more difficult for students to pay off loans.

“The downturn has ended, but we are not in any sort of meaningful recovery. We probably won’t recover for a long, long time,” he said.

According to Friedman, this translates to students essentially putting their lives on hold as they pay off loans.. He explained that they’re going to find it takes longer and will be harder to find a stable job, buy a house, or start a family.  

At 69.1 percent, the universities and colleges of Massachusetts have the highest graduation rate in the nation. The national average is 55.9 percent, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS). Despite this, getting a college degree alone isn’t enough. This generation has many obstacles with which to contend that their parents didn’t have to deal with.

“I have no idea how to deal with it,” Simao said, “interest is going to kill me.”

Despite the higher debt load for college students, Friedman said the lucrative job prospects are worth it.

“The outlook is dismal for everyone,” said Friedman, “but college graduates will be at the head of any hiring queue.”

Colin Spence can be reached at cspence@student.umass.edu.

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