Student Loan Debt: How (And What) Are Students Paying for College?
According to a 2017 Experian report, national student loan debt has now reached 1.4 trillion dollars, coming in second after only housing debt.
The average student loan debt? It’s about $34,000, affecting over 44 million borrowers across the country.
And according to the Federal Reserve, 10% of those borrowers are behind in loan payments.
To get to the bottom of what people are calling the “student debt crisis,” we put together a podcast series, “Challenges and Solutions for Student Financial Aid & debt.”
In this series, we explore the many perspectives around student financial aid & debt, from students trying to find a way to pay for college, to financial aid administrators trying to educate students, to employers dealing with a workforce burdened by student loan debt.
To kick off the series, we started with the challenge—how to pay for college.
In order to find out more about how the average person is paying for college, we had EdTech Times contributor Jessica Filippone interview a few students and graduates. Listen to their stories in the podcast episode above or the video below.
CURTIS: OK. All right. So my name is Curtis.
AMANDA: Hi I’m Amanda.
HASSAN: Hi, my name’s Hassan.
VINNY: Hi my name is Vinny.
RON: Ok. My name is Ron.
CHRISTINE: “Hi, my name is Christine…”
JORDAN: Hi my name is Jordan. And I’m a college dropout.
CURTIS: I’m currently a faculty…an assistant professor.
RON: I’m currently an investment advisor.
HASSAN: I’m going into architecture this August.
AMANDA: Currently a junior studying psychology.
VINNY: And I’m starting business finance in September.
JESSICA: How much student debt do you think like approximately…you currently…have?
JORDAN: I think probably like 25,000. Did a couple of semesters and just feeling like things were not right. Like, you know, it just wasn’t… I tried doing like all the loans, I was signing papers that I didn’t really know about, which I’m like, have a loan debt, and like I have loans now that I just didn’t understand. Like I was 18 years old and I signed this stuff. And like I didn’t really have family members above me to like tell me like, you should be careful before you sign those loans. If you can’t pay them back, it could be a burden on your future.
AMANDA: It’s going to be somewhere around the 100ish thousand.
JESSICA: How does that make you feel?
AMANDA: I mean it’s really overwhelming and…very stressful going through school. And you know, trying to keep the grades up. So far I haven’t made high enough grades to get the scholarship and get the financial aid. To get, you know, more help. So, it’s been really overwhelming and stressful so far.
CHRISTINE: I think about $43,000 in debt.
RON: I have one daughter who is in graduate school, and another one who is still in college…The older one has student debt from her graduate program.
JESSICA: And how are you currently paying that off?
VINNY: My dad’s co-signing a loan and then we’re going to pay it off eventually.
AMANDA: Right now I have Citizen’s loan. And the rest is just…you know out of pocket.
HASSAN: No idea. Taking out loans, slowly build up a business, and slowly pay back that loans and have crippling debt as I do it.
CHRISTINE: My goal is to win the lottery…I’ve been going to Las Vegas regularly…I currently am paying it off based on my income. So I’m doing that minimally. And as soon as I get out of some other debts, like my car, I plan on putting all that money that I was using for my car towards my student loans.
JORDAN: I grind and I work like two or three plus jobs, like on the daily. I’ve been doing that since I was like 16, like even before I was in high school, er, going off to college. I was always doing like work study or something.
JESSICA: And how do your daughters expect to pay off their student debt?
RON: Well we’re going to help them pay off the debt a little bit. When she gets a job that’s part of her responsibility. She understands that…to pay it off. And then one of the other things that I’ve kind of trained her on, is hopefully she may have a job offer from one or two companies, and ask them if they would help pay for any of the debt.
JESSICA: How was your experience applying for FAFSA?
HASSAN: Awful because they rejected my FAFSA because something was wrong. So they were just going to say, hey you’re out of luck.
JESSICA: Do you know what was wrong?
HASSAN: I don’t, because the communication with FAFSA in colleges aren’t great.
JESSICA: And when you were in school…did you apply for any loans, grants, or scholarships to help pay for college?
RON: Yes, I applied for loans, but it was not through FAFSA.
JESS: Have you gone through the FAFSA experience with your daughters?
RON: Yes, I’ve applied to the FAFSA each and every year…and it’s very frustrating.
RON: The questions that they’re asking are…it’s a little too personal. Very cumbersome.
AMANDA: I didn’t get anything.
JESSICA: Didn’t get anything?
AMANDA: According to the FAFSA standard. My family just makes a little too much money. It’s like right on the line of where you have to make either to much or you know, be an in-need family.
JESSICA: Would you have any advice to any students that are about to go into college and working with financial aid?
VINNY: Just just apply for as many scholarships as you can and do good in school.
HASSAN: Just complete your FAFSA, apply for as many scholarships as you can, and…yeah that said, there’s not really much you can do except plan ahead.
CURTIS: And then a lot of my students now, I mean today, definitely work outside jobs during the school year. And then, of course, they’re trying to get internships during the summer, so as soon as they can.
AMANDA: Choose smart what you study. So choose something that you’re really going to like. And then choose something that’s going to help you in the long run.
CHRISTINE: Think about how much debt you’re going to be in and what you studied…and if that’s even possible. Don’t be afraid to try for scholarships.
JORDAN: Study other options, you know? Like just don’t fit in the hype that college is the answer. That’s where you need to go, immediately after high school. If you want to take a gap year or like, just even more time to figure out what you want to do.
Media sources are calling it a crisis. But is it a crisis? Or is it something else?
We’ll get into the cause a little bit more. But even more importantly, we’ll cover the solutions, too. Fortunately, there are some schools and organizations out there trying to tackle these problems before, during, and after a student goes to college.
To find out how, listen in to the rest of our series, “Challenges and Solutions for Student Financial Aid & Debt.”
You can also subscribe below for weekly updates about the series.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.