By Aliza Chasan
A scroll through degree listings never shows debt as an option, but with the levels of student debt growing nationwide, financing an education may be what students are learning most about.
The New York Public Interest Research Group, a national student directed research and advocacy organization with a chapter at Queens College, is holding a campaign entitled, Don’t Major in Debt.
The cost of college and difficulty in obtaining a job post-graduation leaves students in a sticky situation with debt that can take decades to pay off.
“Even though I have no credit card debt, watching how deep in the hole I’m going in student debt is disheartening,” said Cher Armstrong, a library studies graduate student at QC. “I’m terrified that despite being an officer in more than one club, having several years’ work experience in libraries and decent grades that nobody will hire me and I will end up having no choice but to default.”
Collegefinancecenter.org, launched July 17, is a result of NYPIRG’s work. Jane Lynch of “Glee” fame is the face of the campaign.
Produced by the National College Finance Center, the site works to help minimize college costs, potential debt and details methods of payment, post-degree.
With the total amount of student debt surpassing credit card debt and topping $1 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the IOU a student will be left with by graduation is becoming a bigger consideration. Despite having a full scholarship that funded her undergraduate education, Armstrong estimates that she will be left with more than $50,000 in debt from obtaining her master’s degree.
“If I’m really unlucky and don’t get a job that pays enough to afford loan payments, then my credit is going to be destroyed. I’ll never be able to take loans for a car or a house,” Armstrong said.
Pew Research Center survey data shows that 75 percent of the public say higher education is too expensive. The debt young adults are being left with makes it harder to pay bills, buy a home and impacts career choices, delays marriage and/or starting a family.
“At present, right now, I’m going to a public institution, but I already had to take out loans because my grants and federal aid and personal income simply wasn’t able to take care of books, cost of transportation, food and all the other things that are necessary to a college education,” said QC student, Wayne Cleghorn, in a video he posted to the Don’t Major in Debt, Facebook page. Cleghorn also works 20 hours a week.
College Board data shows that QC gives out an average of $8,300 in merit aid per student receiving assistance each year. Merit aid recipients in City College, Hunter College and the College of Staten Island; receive only approximately one-third, one-fourth and one-eighth the amount that QC allots to each merit aid beneficiary.
However, City, Hunter and Staten Island also all give out merit aid to, on average, 8 times as many students as QC does.
Merit aid received does not necessarily totally cover student expenses; Hadas Fruchter, a recent graduate of Macaulay Honors College at QC, had a full merit scholarship covering tuition, but was still forced to take out around $40,000 in student loans to cover food, housing and books.
“Thanks to the loans, I’m able to focus on other things. But there is this biting feeling that the moment I finish my education, I don’t start with a clean slate. The cycle begins and I have to start paying it back,” Fruchter said about her feelings regarding her loans.
Fruchter recently spoke in a panel on student debt and the Jewish community. She estimates around 25 people attended. Between them, they had $664,000 in debt.
This fall, NYPIRG intends to continue their campaign by pushing the use of their new website, which provides students with the information necessary to avoid majoring in debt, said Jaqi Cohen, a spokesperson for the QC chapter of NYPIRG.
“I’ve never heard of it [the campaign] because it wasn’t publicized enough for me to hear of it, but would like to know more because I am definitely majoring in debt,” Armstrong said.