Student Debt Expert Interview

Student debt is on the rise, and is becoming a serious problem in our society. Chris Lindstrom, a representative of Student Debt Alert recently took time to answer a few questions about student debt and Student Debt Alert. The interview was very informative and offers great advice for students who want to get involved.

Student Debt Interview

What is student debt?

As states have cut the budgets for colleges, tuition has risen. Grant aid has stagnated. So, students are taking out the maximum in federal student loans to pay for their college degree. Now, 25 percent of public four-year grads have too much debt to manageably repay as a teacher on a starting salary and almost 40 percent of grads have too much debt manageably repay as a social worker.

How much debt does the average student have after graduation?

Almost 70 percent of 4 year public college graduates have federal student debt when they graduate, up from less than a third ten years ago. The average student has about $19,000 upon graduation; 75,000 graduates have more than $40,000 in loan debt upon graduation.

Is there any way for students to keep their debt to a minimum?

There are many ways, but the problem is that these approaches make education longer and harder.

Students can do two years at a community college before transferring to a four-year school. This approach works for some, but others run into difficulty because classes don't transfer easily. So they might need to do three years at the four-year college. Also, if a 4-year school is not close to home, then the student suddenly faces additional costs like rent and transportation and needs to come up with funds for those things.

Students can work while in school to pay for day-to-day expenses, tuition and textbooks rather than rely on loans for those things. Typically increasing work hours over 25 hours a week negatively impacts grades. So, balancing work and academics can mean taking 5 or 6 years to graduate.

Students can take out a private loan or rely on credit cards to pay for their day-to-day expenses or tuition. Clearly, these are two forms of debt that have little or no consumer protections, so the student is immediately at risk as soon as they run into problems paying the bills on these types of loans.

Can you tell us more about how Student Debt Alert is helping to educate the public about student debt?

Student Debt Alert exists to educate the public, the media, and decision makers about student loans and the over-reliance students have on these loans to pay for college. We conduct research and release it to the media, we hold educational events on campus, and we meet with legislators. We have a student debt yearbook online that has over 5,000 students in it and we create individual campus yearbooks to give to decision makers so they can see the debt problem first hand.

How can students and other individuals get involved in this fight to reform student loan programs?

  • They can contact their senators and representatives, to ask that they support legislation to increase grant aid and reform loans so that they don't stop students from graduating and moving forward with their lives.
  • They can meet with their college president and strategize for ways to increase the availability of grant aid for the student body, so students will take out less in loans.

Do you have any suggestions for individuals who want to learn more about student loan debt and the effect it has on new grads and our economy?

They can read our report, Paying Back Not Giving Back: Student Loan Debt's Negative Consequences on Public Interest Careers available at www.uspirg.org.

Two books have also recently come out that describe the problem of debt carried by 20 something's in the new economy: Generation Debt by Anya Kamanetz and Strapped by Tamara Draught.

Student Debt Expert Interview