Education Nation

Education Nation

A solutions-focused conversation about the state of education in America

A Major Problem: Today's College Kids Are Drowning in Debt

Average debt per student is $23,000

By Andrew Siff
|  Saturday, Sep 25, 2010  |  Updated 4:46 PM EDT
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A good education may be priceless...	But as any college student in our area knows-- it isn't cheap. 	And paying for school very often leaves students saddled with debt.	<a title=Andrew Siff talked with those trying to solve the financial dilemma." />

A good education may be priceless... But as any college student in our area knows-- it isn't cheap. And paying for school very often leaves students saddled with debt. Andrew Siff talked with those trying to solve the financial dilemma.

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Ashley Paniagua of Harlem wanted to be a social worker. So she knew that college was a necessary first step.

The problem was affording it.

"If you want an education," she said, "the best option is a student loan."

And so she got one. She attended SUNY Albany, added a fifth year, and got a masters. Now she has a job as a social worker at Big Brothers/Big Sisters of New York. The only problem? She's more than $50,000 in debt. That's a challenge she might not erase until 2030. Or so.

"Twenty years -- I'm not sure. That's kind of the price you pay for wanting a good education."

She's far from alone. According to author Anya Kamenetz, who wrote "Generation Debt," the average college graduate today owes more than $23,000. And the problem is compounded because many students made a bad bet: that they'd have a high-paying job after school. But in this economy, they might not have a job at all.

"The availability of this easy credit allows colleges to raise tuition year after year," said Kamenetz. "I hear from people who say, 'I wish I hadn't signed up for film school or culinary school. I had big dreams, and now I have five figures of loans, six figures of loans."

To try and reduce the problem, New York City now runs 18 free Financial Empowerment centers, where counselors help students devise a smart monthly budget to start paying off debt. And banks, like TD, have devised Web sites like the "Wow Zone" which teach money lessons to kids as young as kindergartners.

"An 18-year old looking to go to college -- we should have started talking to that person years ago to look at the different options," said Brandon Williams, Vice President at TD Bank in Midtown Manhattan.

Other experts suggest that indebted students get jobs with non-profits that pay off loans in exchange for volunteer service.

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