Soaring loans threaten a generation of students

The supposed student debt bubble is an open secret.

Since 2006, the total amount of loans owed by students has nearly tripled, from $447 billion to a whopping $1.27 trillion. Today, that equates to an average of $29,581 of debt per borrower nationwide.

Not everyone carries the same burden, but these numbers convey the massive scale and monetary cost of student lending.

What isn’t talked about is the human cost.

“There’s a certain point where I have to ask myself, ‘Am I really benefiting myself with these loans?’” said junior Cristina Guttersen.

A similar question has been running through my mind.

What’s the point of racking up $40,000 in student loans, as I likely will before graduating, if there is no guarantee that I’ll be able to pay them off?

The notices in my inbox detailing the daily interest accumulating on my loans already haunt me. According to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website, aside from becoming disabled, there is only one surefire way I won’t have to repay.

“If you, the borrower, die, then your federal student loans will be discharged.”

Even if I declare bankruptcy, I still have to pay off my student loans.

I’m disheartened that I can’t afford an education without borrowing money. The worry and strain of sorting out the cost is taxing.

Academic studies have been conducted regarding debt’s relationship to personal wellbeing. In 2013, researchers at Northwestern University concluded household debt has negative physical and mental health consequences.

And last year, Katrina Walsemann and a team of researchers at the University of South Carolina found “preliminary evidence that student loans are associated with poorer psychological functioning while enrolled in school as well as in early adulthood.”

The act of owing money can affect everything from blood pressure and mental state. At times, I’ve lost hours of sleep and the drive to do schoolwork.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 82.7 percent of students received some type of financial aid for college during the 2012-2013 academic year. Aside from federal, state and institutional grant money and scholarships, 49.4 percent of students held loans in their name, via either private or government lenders.

Daniel Caccavelli, a junior at Averett University, is one such student. Caccavelli said he’s content with his student debt situation, but it did give him pause.

“At the same time, it’s a lot of money accruing.”

Still, approximately half of students don’t borrow to get an education.

“I’m not really stressed because I’m on the GI Bill,” said London Duvall, a junior at Guilford Technical Community College.

While Duvall has reasonably figured out his college financing, he realizes that not all his friends are quite as lucky.

Now think of the broader social consequences student debt will have on my generation.

According to the Pew Research Center, college graduates without student loans have a median wealth accumulation seven times greater than graduates with them.

In essence, students that graduate with loans are too preoccupied with paying them off to have time to build their future. The incentive to get an education is dwarfed by the obligation to pay for it.

My parents always billed college as a gateway to a better life.

Their generation was hopeful. They were able to use family savings and minimum wage jobs to go to school.

But since the 1980s, the inflation-adjusted cost of a four-year degree has more than doubled. My generation can’t afford to have hopes — we can only leverage them.

We need a concerted effort to ease the burden that debt has on students.

Lately, there has been greater scrutiny placed on for-profit colleges, which contribute disproportionately to the student loan problem. That’s a start.

However, all hands need to be on deck.

The government can subsidize higher education. Colleges and universities can lower tuition costs. Banks and other lenders can ease the terms of their loans.

These actions could restore the value of an education, a value too many students like me can’t help but question.