Staff Editorial: Massive student debt avoidable under right circumstances


(Editorial cartoon by Brian Regan)

Call it a generational anxiety — the kind of creeping, crawling disquiet that begins to haunt students as they get closer and closer to graduating. Faced with a bleak job market and the suddenly-crushing weight of student debt, many cannot help but treat what was once a day of hope as a slow, inevitable march toward an economic guillotine.

According to The Project on Student Debt, an organization that advocates for allowing more students access to college, two-thirds of American college students had $26,000 in debt, on average, upon graduating. It is important to note this statistic is not uniform, and different states have different averages of debt.

Arizona has one of the lowest averages of debt in the nation, coming in at 45th with a statewide average of $19,950. According to the study, 55 percent of 2011 NAU grads had an average of $20,602 in debt. In an article from spring of this year, The Arizona Daily Sun reported NAU students, on average, spend a total of $83,000 getting their degree.

This math does not really add up. The current tuition rate for this year’s freshman class is $4,637.50, per semester, including fees. For many current students, that rate is actually far less: this year’s seniors are locked into the 2009 rate, thanks to the Pledge program. What’s more, many students receive some sort of merit scholarship upon arriving at the university. So, what is driving the costs up?

Well, students also have to pay for books, parking, food, rent and entertainment on top of all that.

Many of us at this paper face this reality — many of us here have little-to-no parental financial contributions, mostly because they have disowned us for being journalism students. Mmost-to-all of us substitute for that by applying for scholarships and working. Some of us do take out student loans, but few seniors on staff have more than $8,000 to $10,000 in debt.

We recognize everyone’s circumstances are different, and it is impossible to account for each and every student’s personal, financial situation. It’s easy to see that some students work through college and some do not. It is the easiest and simplest way to stay out of massive amounts of debt: get income while tightening the belt.

It is not a luxurious, or even comfortable, existence. That loaded campus meal plan might need to go in favor of some tomato soup dinners, and you will have to spend some time combing the Internet for the best deals on  textbooks. You may consider doing the research to find which is cheaper for you: living on campus or cramming into an apartment with three of your closest friends and soon-to-be mortal enemies.

Making the sacrifices now can spare you the pain later. Most of us working here do not have the sunniest post-collegiate job prospects — it comes with the territory. For most of us, working for this publication is our second, or even third, job.

You make your own future. You cannot depend on your parents, future employers or — God forbid you actually trust them — the state legislature to help you out in this down economy. In the end, you must take all possible preventative measures — applicable to you, in your situation — to keep your student debt accumulation as limited as possible.

That is not to say that, as a society, we should give up on trying to make college a more affordable venture for even the most disadvantaged among us, but, don’t hold your breath waiting for a vast change in the way our nation looks at higher education and the debt students obtain.

Be proactive: apply for scholarships, find that terrible, minimum-wage job that you will remember ever-so-fondly twenty years from now. Cut costs: you may not be able to afford that Xbox game or those new clothes.

Above all: keep your head up. You make your own future, and it does not have to be one full of doom-and-gloom. You will get a job if you never stop trying, if you knock down any door of opportunity that opens a crack for you. You will get out of your debt if you commit to living frugally now.

You can do it, and you know you can.

Editor’s Note: Kevin Bertram, the editor-in-chief of The Lumberjack, wrote this editorial on behalf of the staff. Kevin is a senior double-majoring in journalism and history. He has very little parental financial contributions and works two jobs in addition to running The Lumberjack. Using money saved from working, he did not take out a student loan this year.


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