Burden of student load debt a universal American problem

Twenty-nineteen is a banner year for student debt, with more than half the national college student population taking out student loans to pay tuition.

Right behind a mortgage loans, student loans are the source of the second-highest household debt reported. According to a study from Forbes Magazine, more than $1.5 trillion is owed in student loan debt across the country, by more than 44 million borrowers.

Sierra Nevada College is a private liberal arts college, with the annual tuition set at a private school rate. Do these considerable amounts of debt apply to students at SNC?

“Student loan debt is a universal issue,” said Judy Roberts, the director of financial aid at SNC. “We advise students to be frugal when borrowing, but it is nearly impossible to attend any four-year college and not borrow at least some student loan funds.”

Though the annual cost to attend SNC is set at more than $51,000 for a student who lives on campus, according to the college’s website, 93% of accepted students receive merit-based scholarships and/or need-based grants, making attendance for students who do not have the means of paying high tuition more realistic.

“When I first was accepted, I received a transfer scholarship along with need-based gift aid through filing the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid], awarding me around $20,000 to put towards my tuition,” SNC senior Katherine Ward said. “My family nor myself are in a financial place to pay for tuition costs, so this aid has substantially helped to cut my tuition fees down.”

However, even with applying a generous scholarship from SNC to a student’s tuition fees, some students are still left to find other means to pay the balance.

“The leftover amount for my tuition fees is mainly through federal student loans,” Ward said. “I also pay several thousand dollars out of my own pocket for each semester.”

For any undergraduate student that files a FAFSA, They’re applications are reviewed for two different loans through the federal government—subsidized and unsubsidized loans. The difference between the two loans is the government does not charge interest until post-graduation on a subsidized loan, whereas they begin to charge interest on an unsubsidized loan once it is applied to a student’s tuition.

“We always advise students to use subsidized loan funds first, then take the unsubsidized funds only if you need them,” Roberts said.

Along with being awarded with federally supported grants and/or loans, going through the process of filing a FAFSA can be frustrating for many students.

“I’ve been denied for grants in the past simply for not applying for the FAFSA on time,” Ward said. “It’s been incredibly frustrating losing out on money for being late on a deadline or for making what is considered too much money.”

One of the considerable stressors that follow the process of taking out student loans is the overwhelming consequences of default. Unlike most loans, student loan debt will stay with an individual even in bankruptcy, until it is completely paid off. With such long-term effects, it can be an immense amount of pressure to afford the high payments.

“The system needs to be changed, there needs to be more forgiveness with loaning such large amounts of money,” said SNC sophomore Jonas Patten. “As college students go into bigger amounts of student loan debt, going to college can lose its appeal.”

Many students are in heavy amounts of debt, attending school full time—yet they are still being pinched to make ends meet.

“Currently I’m taking 15 units and working 30 hours a week, which leaves me completely exhausted and almost no time for homework or anything that I want to do,” Ward said. “Even with working, I’m still struggling financially. There are times where I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to pay rent or buy food.”

Aside from federally supported aid and loans provided to students, if students are still finding financial strain in their lives, private loans are available through third-party companies. However, these loans can be particularly tricky.

“We advise students to only use private loans as a last resort, especially in their first few years of college,” Roberts said. “No private loan is subsidized, and interest rates depend on the borrower’s credit rating. Since the average college student does not have credit history, they generally need a parent to co-sign.”

Though accruing debt can be a profuse mental battle for many students, college graduates are still given benefits after their college career, allowing a step-up in paying student loans back.

“As long as the student had had no other breaks in school, college graduates get a six-month grace period before loan repayment begins,” Roberts said. “This is meant to help students while they search for jobs upon graduation and get settled.”

Unlike loans and scholarships provided by SNC, students are still encouraged to apply for scholarships.

“There are thousands of scholarships given out by local organizations. These organizations are begging for applicants,” Roberts said. “I used to be in a sorority that gave out annual scholarships of up to $2,000, and we had to beg for applicants. Get involved, you might be surprised on what you find.”

If students are still not finding a way to support themselves during their time in school, they are encouraged to visit SNC’s financial aid office.

“I’ve had students come into my office in tears, thinking they were going to have to leave school, only to find out we actually had solutions that gave them that little boost to keep going,” Roberts said. “We are here to help, and our office is always open.”

For further information or questions about financial aid at SNC, email Judy Roberts at: [email protected], or call the office of financial aid and scholarships at 775-881-7439.