With student loan debt having reached $1 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the red in students’ bank accounts may continue to darken.
The average student at a public college will accrue $20,000 in student loan debt, according to a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee report, in the time to complete a degree. Comparatively, University students in 2010 owed an average of $4,062 less than the national average, with the state of Georgia being the seventh best school for lowest average loan debt, according to Project on Student Debt.
Marianne Fortuna, an accounting lecturer at the University, said she estimates the cost of public education to reach $30,000 per year by the year 2020, applying an increase of 3.5 to 4 percent annually.
“I believe the high rate of student loan debt is the result of several factors [including] ease of obtaining federal education loans, the push for higher education in a down economy and the proliferation of non-accredited higher education opportunities,” Fortuna said.
Ariel Patterson, a sophomore health promotions major from Manchester, said she believes she will have $30,000 in student loan debt after she has completed all of her educational training.
“After I graduate, I will need to go to graduate school to be an occupational therapist,” Patterson said. “I plan on liking what I’m doing and paying it off in a few years after that.”
The report, labeled “For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success,” was published on July 30, analyzing post-secondary education and the debt it leaves behind. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) led the committee, highlighting the explosive 225 percent growth of enrollment at for-profit colleges between 1998 and 2008 and the higher debt amassed at these institutions.
“Federal law and regulations currently do not align the incentives of for-profit colleges,” the report said, “so that the colleges succeed financially when students succeed.”
Students of for-profit colleges account for 47 percent of all student loan defaults, according to the U.S. Department of Education, with public schools representing 42 percent. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities issued a statement following the report’s release, taking the report to task on four factual inaccuracies, including issues with retention rate and debt statistics.
“Unfortunately, Senator Harkin’s report continues in the tradition of ideology overriding reality,” the APSCU wrote. “The report twists the facts to fit a narrative, proving that this is nothing more than continued political attacks on private sector colleges and universities.”
Both campaigns have made reference to ebbing the rising tuition and student debt rates in the country but with few specifics. The Department of Education, led by Secretary Arne Duncan, has asked for a $1 billion investment for the first year of “Race To The Top: College Affordability and Completion” to allocate “competitive grants to States with strong records of, and commitments to, increasing college affordability and quality, and...value.”
In “A Chance for Every Child,” the Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s education plan, Romney said he wishes to “embrace a private-sector role in providing information, financing and education itself, working with effective businesses to support the goals of students and families.” The plan also wishes to “allow consumers in the market to make their own choices while providing the information to make those choices well” and to “support institutions that are pursing innovative operating models to drive down costs.”
To make smart, economical decisions regarding their education, Fortuna said she advises student to look at graduation rates and funding to make the best choice.
“My recommendation would be to choose an accredited institution which has a good track record of placing their students upon graduation, only borrow what they absolutely need and supplement with an on-campus or part-time job to allay additional expenses,” Fortuna said. “There is no set rule that [students] must graduate in four years so if their supplemental income reduces the need to borrow, take a little longer to graduate.”