Heavy Loan Load

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As a college senior contemplating furthering my education with graduate school next year, the issue of repaying college loans hits close to home with me.

We have always been told that education is a good thing, and the further you take your education, the better. But what happens when college graduates are left thousands of dollars in debt with no career to show for it? Is college always worth the money?

Going to college does not guarantee you a great job—or any job, for that matter—anymore. People who are working in the area they majored in during college are few and far between.

Instead, recent college graduates are receiving job offers from fast food restaurants and retail stores. After putting four years into earning a degree, I can personally attest that working alongside high school students is less than desirable, to say the least.

After speaking with some recent SUNY Oswego graduates, I can say my faith in higher education securing me a career has been tested.

Krystal Enfonde, a December 2011 graduate of SUNY Oswego who lives in the Rochester area, is still looking to land her dream job a year after graduation. For a degree in English at about $15,000 per year, Enfonde is nearly $70,000 in the hole for her four-and-a-half years of college.

She chose to defer her loans, as she was only working part-time while taking classes. She was also put into a predicament when her mother lost her job after her first semester, making it impossible for her parents to help pay off her loans.

“I financed my entire education on loans, and I’m paying back $500 a month. When they first kicked in, I had decided not to go to grad school right away. I’d just be putting myself another $30,000 in debt in a year with the slimmest chance of getting any kind of job after. I started applying to everything,” Enfonde said.

McDonald’s and Hollister were the only companies to offer her a position, she said. Out of desperation, she gave in to working two part-time jobs at the Eastside Family YMCA in Penfield, near Rochester, and the mall also in the Rochester area. Her income went directly toward paying off loans, putting away $100 a month at most.

“It was terrible,” she said. “I couldn’t stand working over 40 hours at jobs with high schoolers who were making the same as me, even though I was a graduate. I got no raise at my current job for being a graduate. I finally got sick of the stress and quit retail.”

She is now working one part-time job in the childcare department of the YMCA, and said she makes about $600 a month. She has reluctantly been making loan payments with money from her savings account as of late. Enfonde still wants to attend graduate school to get her master’s degree in education and teach secondary English, but has put that dream on hold in lieu of reality.

Colleen Ossman, a 2010 graduate of SUNY Oswego, is still hopeful that her bachelor’s degree in business administration will pay off. She too spent about $15,000 per year in student loans, which she began paying off six months after graduation.

“I have student loans and they are stressful at times, and at times I feel like it’s a waste because I make minimal money and not in my career field,” Ossman said.

She moved to Greensburg, Pa., and works as an administrative assistant at HICO America, a company that manufactures and sells power system equipment. She said her college degree did help her land the position, though it was not her ideal job.

“I wanted to be a corporate event planner. However, with the poor economy, many companies slashed that department or wanted people with more experience,” said Ossman.

She was also forced to turn down some job offers due to her student loans and bills. She said the cost of living and lack of suitable job opportunities have been the main contributing factors in her career decisions.

“I hope that it will pay off in the end,” Ossman said. “My parents didn’t go to college and they wanted to send all four kids to college. I’m glad I went and I learned a lot, even if it didn’t always come from a classroom.”

Marissa Doebert is a 2011 graduate of SUNY Oswego with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in graphic design. She is now employed at Roberts Office Furniture Concepts, Inc. in Cicero as a marketing coordinator.

“I’m glad I went to a SUNY school as far as price goes. If you work hard and have something to show for that, you’ll get a job no matter where your education is from,” said Doebert.

She made repaying her student loans a priority, and got ahead of the game by developing a payment plan with SUNY Oswego. Doebert’s loan payments are based on her income, so she is able to pay what she can reasonably afford.

On this particular plan she was able to eliminate some interest by signing up for automatic deductions from her bank account, and receives government assistance as well.

“They reward those who have started to pay off their loans and who have a set plan to do so, as opposed to those who have to defer,” she said. “It’s unfortunate for those who don’t have a job or have to defer, but everyone is in the same boat after college.”

Doebert said the assistance she received from the SUNY Oswego loans department was extremely helpful in learning about her options and finding the right plan for her.

“Getting organized and planning is the best thing to do. [Loan payments] sneak up on you. It’s kind of like your bank account. You don’t want to look at it, but it’s there and it’s not going anywhere.”

Anyone can work a minimum wage job. I have earned minimum wage working different jobs since I was 16 years old and legally able to work. But going to college was supposed to help me secure more than just a “job.” I want a career.

For recent SUNY Oswego graduates—which I will be soon enough—landing a job to pay the bills was not the hard part.

Settling into a career with the ability to live comfortably on a salary that will stretch further than paying for college loans seems to be an ideal scenario for the graduated student.

Students leave Oswego with average of $23,900 in debt

Questioning the return on college investment has become a nation-wide trend, with publications such as Newsweek, Business Insider and the Huffington Post publishing articles on the topic.

Late last year the State University of New York System announced an effort to prevent students from defaulting on their loans. According to an article published by Inside Higher Ed titled “SUNY vs. Student Debt,” SUNY students who graduated in 2010 borrowed an average of $21,700 for a bachelor’s degree. The resolution SUNY has in mind seems to be an increase in communication.

“Policy experts say the most intriguing part of the plan is a partnership between the university and the U.S. Education Department to share data about student borrowers to see which factors correlate (and could predict) loan defaults,” reads the article. “Using that information to create what the university describes as an ‘early warning system,’ campus officials will be able to identify which students are at a higher risk for default and keep in touch with them throughout their college careers.”

While preventing students from defaulting on their loans may be one way to aid national student debt, the issue originates in the decision to attend college in the first place, according to an article in Newsweek.

Parents tell their kids college was a necessity in order to earn a career, which may have been the first mistake, according to a Newsweek story. The article notes the similarities to the housing bubble, “which started with parents telling their children that ‘renting is throwing your money away,’ and ended in mass foreclosures.”

Within the span of time it took goods and services to raise an average of 50 percent, the price of college has nearly doubled. More than half of recent college graduates are unemployed or working jobs that do not require a college degree. Since 1999 the amount of student debt carried by a household has more than quintupled. Somewhere between one half and two thirds of students who earned and undergraduate degree now carry debt. These statistics reported by Newsweek reveal a very urgent problem.

The financials of higher education was a hot topic during the recent presidential election as well. As stated in the Business Insider’s article, “Why Privatization Isn’t the Answer to the Student Loan Crisis,” private lenders as intermediaries for the government’s loan programs would encourage more non-government lending.

But does that solve the issue either? Not really, according to the article.

“That argument is disingenuously selective because the private lenders have been no less accommodating when it comes to making easy money available to a relatively unsophisticated population of borrowers.”

Some universities have taken matters into their own hands, according to the Huffington Post article, “Student Loans Discouraged: Syracuse University’s Money Awareness Program Has Cut Debt By $21,000 Per Student.”

In this effort, Syracuse University identifies students who are over-borrowing and awards them grants averaging between $5,000 and $7,000 per year. These students are required to take money-management courses each semester until they graduate.

Here at SUNY Oswego 80 percent of students borrow federal student loans, according to Mark Humbert, director of the financial aid office. Once they graduate, the average Oswego student will carry $23,900 in debt due to Federal Loans.