After spending endless hours studying, reading, and taking tests, holding your diploma in your hand and moving your tassel across your cap is a liberating experience. Unfortunately, the excitement quickly turns to stress due to student debt that saddles most for ten years or more. 

College is supposed to be a dream for students, providing opportunities to study what they love. Higher education has become more difficult to pursue since debt has reached a high of 1.5 trillion in 2019. Enrollment rates are declining, and the tuition cost of public and private universities is high. Two important questions now are:  

  1. How can students avoid or address their debt?  
  2. What is the future of higher education with so much student loan debt?  

Statistics 

Student loan debt was the highest it’s ever been in 2019, making U.S. loans the second highest consumer debt after mortgages. The more populated states such as California, Florida, Texas, and New York hold the most student loan debt. Experian states Washington D.C. this past year had the highest average student loan debt compared to all fifty states, landing at $55,882. These states alone owe more than $340 billion combined in student loan debt.  

Student debt balances have also grown throughout age categories. Surprisingly, the older age groups owe the most student debt. Borrowers in the age group of 70-79 have increased their debt by 3%, the 60-69 age group increased by 4%, and the age group 50-59 increased by 5%. Most of these borrowers invest in their children’s education as well as their own endeavors. 

With over 40 million student loan borrowers, the average American owes around $37,000 student loans according to the Federal Reserve. Most are still just paying off interest five years after of graduation. 

These statistics are shocking, and these trends are expected to continue; however, there are many ways students can avoid or at least reduce their debt.  

How to Avoid Student Debt  

As a college student, there is almost no doubt you will end up with student debt, unless you receive a full scholarship or come from a wealthy family. Student debt can be overwhelming and stressful, though there are many ways to avoid student debt or at least make it more bearable.

Photo by CalSouthern Staff
  1. Start saving your money while you’re young. Many high school students work at a part-time job to earn extra spending money. Setting aside a few hundred dollars can add up over time and help pay for books or living expenses in college. As savings slowly accumulate, you can also contribute those savings to loans and pay them off more quickly.
  2. Earn as many scholarships as you can. The difference between loans and scholarships is you don’t have to pay scholarships back. There are hundreds of them available, so investigate to find ones that suit you. Scholarships will help you avoid taking out more loans and whittle down the balance of what you’ll owe after graduation. 
  3. See if your employer offers any programs that will help reduce your student loans. Many large companies offer tuition assistance or similar programs as a way to assist their employees in professional development. Do some research or ask your supervisor if any such programs are available. You might be surprised at what you find! 

Those are a few helpful tips to avoid student debt, or at least lower the cost of loans. In the meantime, the higher education industry faces tough challenges to adjust to modern students’ needs. 

The Future of Education 

Each year college tuition gets more expensive and student debt continues to rise. With student loan debt in the trillions, more college-aged adults are either choosing not to go to school or dropping out. The student debt crisis is intimidating for most, as there aren’t many reliable resources available for financial education and loan repayment planning.  

In order to address these issues, institutions can work harder to explain what financial aid is and what students qualify for. They can help students earlier to figure out their educational path before they get stuck in a program that is not right for them. Advising students with financial plans can lower the risks of students dropping out and having more trouble paying off loans without a degree. Keeping students informed on how much they’ve borrowed will help them stay on track during school and borrow less. 

Photo by Trevor McKay

An example of innovative financial practices is California Southern University. Since federal student loans often hold absurdly high interest rates, this university has devised a unique model by offering interest-free payment plans. This offers an attractive alternative to relying on federal student aid that may burden learners for ten years or more.  

When students sign up with a federal loan servicing company, the company does not always address important payment options. This leaves students in the dark on how to manage their loans. California Southern University wants to reduce the stress of being involved with loan companies and instead work with students in-house on financial plans. This helps students create a clearer plan on how to pay for their education. 

Student debt has also been a key focus in our government. Diane Auer Jones, principal deputy undersecretary for the Department of Education mentioned the government will be looking into agreements addressing the crisis. The plan in question is to have borrowers start paying off their loans when they secure a job after graduation, where a certain percentage of their income will go to the loans. 

Schools, governments, and students can make adjustments to support students. Schools opting out of providing financial aid can help reduce the burden of student loans due to high interest rates. However, if schools provide aid, both the school and students must take responsibility on loan payments. Overall, providing students with financial help will improve their educational experience, future, and hopefully whittle down student debt loans. 

Will the student debt crisis ever get resolved?  

A young female college student walks in the city holding paperwork.
Photo by Kat Garcia

About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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