Young Americans Voice Concern Over Student Loans

With two in three college students taking on loan debt, the burden has become a generational issue.

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Equal Justice Works is a proud partner of Young Invincibles' Campaign for Young America, whose National Youth Bus Tour is traveling across the country to engage young adults and elevate their diverse voices in local, state, and national conversations. This week, the Student Loan Ranger presents a guest post from Young Invincibles to share some of the major issues young America is concerned with when it comes to student debt.

What are some of the words you would use to define young Americans today? Optimistic? Hopeful? Fearful? In debt?

Young Invincibles' national bus tour team is asking young adults that question, among many others, as we trek across the country on our 20-state bus tour, listening to the struggles and ideas of our generation. The answers are nearly as diverse as this generation, but one issue comes through again and again in every community we visit: student debt. 

We're halfway through this two-month adventure, and it's clear that student debt is one of the top issues on young people's minds. Whether we talk to current students, young people who have graduated and are struggling to handle their debt, or non-college youth dreaming of pursuing higher education one day, the message we're hearing is plain: This generation is being held back by the rising cost of college and the burden of student loans, and the tough economy makes it even worse.

[Find out if education debt is prolonging the recession.] 

Take, for instance, LeAnne from Newark, New Jersey, who is uncertain about her ability to afford bringing up a family, since she will struggle to pay more than $300,000 in student loans while she works to become a doctor. She is fearful of the fact that she and others in our generation will be left behind as reductions in funding to public universities result in higher tuition and more student loans.

Reggie from Fairview, N.C. is also concerned. He is unsure about what is available for his generation and unsure that jobs will be there to pay off the loans he will incur as a result of rising tuition. Reggie is most concerned with the doubling of interest rates on new federal loans this summer from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, which he sees as a major hurdle to his future and that of his generation.

[Look out for these federal financial aid changes in 2012.]

We once led the world in education, yet today we are only ninth in the world when it comes to getting a college degree. States continue to slash funding for higher education and the average tuition for a college student in America has tripled in the last thirty years.

Two out of every three students graduate with student loan debt at an average of about $25,000, and even higher levels of debt are becoming increasingly common. Expensive private loans are on the rise again, colleges and lenders are not doing a good enough job educating borrowers on programs like income-based repayment, and undergraduates face a doubling of interest rates on federal loans this summer if Congress does not act. 

In conversations across the country, we are seeing a generation rising to the challenge—participating, meeting with elected officials, and having real, honest discussions about the problems in the system and potential solutions that they could get behind, particularly when it comes to student debt.

[Learn what the Student Loan Forgiveness Act could mean for you.]

One suggestion students have made is a financial aid check every year, which would let them know in one document how much they've borrowed so far, estimated monthly payments, and how long it would take to repay. Students could review this information before deciding whether and how much they should borrow in the coming year.

This generation continues to strive for an education. We are leading the charge for educational reform—through policy, service as teachers, and startups that seek to disrupt the status quo. We know that student debt is a symptom of broader problems in our educational system, but it is a symptom that can and must be treated immediately.

But we can't do it alone. It's time for Washington to step up to the plate on student debt, to join young Americans in the drive to solve one of the biggest challenges facing our society, and to ensure that higher education continues to promise a brighter future for all Americans.

We continue to urge Americans, young and old, to get invested in the campaign by going to www.YoungAmerica.Is. Find out where we'll be and share your solutions for our generation. Tweet us (@YI_care) to let us know what #YoungAmericaIs to you.

Matthew Lawrence is the National Communications Coordinator for Young Invincibles, a national nonprofit organization advocating for 18- to 34-year-olds on the issues of health care, college affordability, and employment.