Higher education provides no help for working poor

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As another year begins and ends, many students look at their financial aid in dismay. Many students are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt by the time they get that piece of paper saying they’re educated.

I am one of those students. Every year, I apply for the FAFSA, and yes, it does help. Kind of. And yes, I apply for and receive scholarships, which I am incredibly grateful for. But, as an out-of-state student, it still isn’t enough. At the beginning of every fall semester, I find myself sitting in the Office of Financial Aid asking for more money.

Here is my problem.

For students who come from families who are a part of the working poor, paying for college is a continuous uphill battle. We look at our federal and potentially private-line loans and sometimes start crying.

I come from a single parent household. My mother makes just enough money, annually, to be considered part of the working poor. Even before I came to college, she worked at least one full time job as well as at least one part time job year-round. She made just enough money to not be considered living in absolute poverty.

Every February, when taxes are beginning to get filed and I have to fill out my FAFSA, I have to put in her annual income. Since she makes more than the absolute poverty line and I don’t make enough to be considered an independent on the federal form, the aid I receive is never enough. Having a parent who makes enough money to live comfortably, yet doesn’t have enough money to help me with school is frustrating. To the government, my mother should be able to help me with school, but she can’t. She has a mortgage and a car payment on top of everyday expenses, just like many American adults.

In order to pay for school, I have to continually take out federal loans. But above that, I have also had to take out private-line loans. Student loan debt is spiraling out of control for students who have continued to use this as their way to pay for higher education. According to an October 2012 report from the Institute for College Access and Success, it’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt averaging $26,600. They also found that high debt resided in the geographic Northeast and the Midwest. In these two regions, student loan debt averages from $3,000 to $55,250.

Even in the highest average, to date, I have already taken out more student loans than that. Currently, I am sitting at more than $60,000 in student loan debt with at least two more years to go. I am originally from the Midwest and attend a university in the Midwest, so I struggle with seeing an average of only $55,250. I must be a high range outlier when it comes to student loan debt in the Midwest.

Some people may ask why my student loan debt is so high. Well, surprise, I’m an out-of-state student. Based on the rates for K-State for the 2013 – 2014 academic year, I am paying $2.65 on every $1 in-state students pay. Reality check: as an out-of-state student, I pay almost 38 percent more than in-state students. When I see these figures, I am sick to my stomach. When I take a maximum of 14 credit hours a semester, I will be paying almost $20,000 a year to be here.

So, here is where another dilemma lies. Can I find enough financial aid, outside of what I received originally and scholarships to be able to take more credit hours? Or will I have to rely on private loans to be able to take more credit hours? Will I only stick with 14 credit hours and have to be here additional years in order to graduate? These are questions I constantly ask myself.

But here’s the kicker: I know I’m not the only one. According to an Aug. 7 Forbes Magazine article by Chris Denhart, student loan debt accounts for more than $1 trillion worth of the national debt. That’s 6 percent of the total national debt. This debt is second to only mortgage debt. But what does this really mean? “National debt carries many consequences including slowing economic growth (translating into fewer jobs being created) and rising interest rates,” the article reads.

With continued increases to tuition in colleges and universities nationally and high underemployment or unemployment rates for college graduates, the federal student loan debt is a serious problem. Everything about this situation is a problem. There is also no solution in sight.

We need to solve this problem soon, or our economy is going to be in serious trouble once this generation of students is unable to pay back their student loans and interest.

Jakki Thompson is a junior in journalism and mass communications and American ethnic studies. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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