Julie Safaty made a smart choice her freshman year of college.
A semester in, she realized the student loans she took out to attend a private college in Florida would not make her education affordable.
She transferred to the University at Buffalo, where she’d still need loans, but she’d get the benefit of in-state tuition at a public university.
But that doesn’t stop Safaty’s heart from racing when the 20-year-old UB junior thinks about graduation, when the clock will start ticking on a stack of federal and private loans she took out to pay for school.
“The future freaks me out,” Safaty said as she finished lunch with friends at the Student Union on UB’s North Campus.
Who can blame her?
News for college students isn’t exactly rosy these days: high unemployment rates, rising tuition and the ongoing story of student debt. A new report found the average student loan debt of a graduate last year rose 5 percent to $26,600.
The angst facing college kids was front and center last week, when Jeremy Epstein opened the presidential debate with this statement: “As a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment.”
Maia Pidsadnick, 18, thinks about the cost of college every day – when she’s commuting to school, when she’s filling her gas tank, when she’s working a part-time job to save up for tuition.
“For me, it’s a huge factor,” said Pidsadnick, a Springville resident who chose UB for financial reasons. She’s just two months into college, but student debt already weighs heavily on her.
It’s not hard to find students who are stressed out about the cost of their education and whether they’ll find the right job prospects to make the price worth it once they’re done.
The narrative on college has changed in the last decade from one of opportunity to one of the shackles of debt, and there are plenty of good reasons for that. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which estimates that outstanding student debt has surpassed $1 trillion, just completed a troubling report that details some of the problems graduates have, from refinancing loans to negotiating repayment plans with private lenders.
Everyone has read the horror stories about students who leave school with six-figure debt and no way to pay.
But what often gets overshadowed is that, for most students, college is still the brightest most promising path forward. A study by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute found that “college has proved to be the best umbrella in the historic economic storm and the best preparation for the economy that is emerging in the recovery.” While unemployment rates for recent graduates remain too high, they’re even more disturbing for those with only a high school degree.
And the cost of college isn’t exactly what it seems, as well. Stories about the astronomical leaps in tuition prices in recent years often fail to note that the net price – what students actually pay after grants and scholarships – has increased at a much slower rate.
There’s plenty to be done to address the cost of college and to make sure private student loans don’t border on predatory lending.
But let’s not forget: College is still a great deal.