Students Carry Heavy Debt Loads

Article excerpt

Byline: GREG BOLT The Register-Guard

Many college students now rack up more than $20,000 in debt by the time they earn a degree, and more students than ever are graduating with both a diploma and unmanageable loan payments, according to a new nationwide study.

Not only is the debt load rising among college students, but more students than ever also are using loans and credit cards to finance both their educations and their living expenses, the survey says. Loans alone leave almost two-thirds of all students about $17,000 in debt on average, and half of students who take out loans also leave college with an average credit card debt of more than $3,000.

"Too often, debt burden becomes a ball and chain for student borrowers after graduation," said Lisa Roberts, a University of Oregon student with the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group. "Many student borrowers are taking on unmanageable levels of debt to finance a higher education."

Statistics on student debt were compiled by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. An organization of state public interest research groups analyzed the data and released a report Thursday.

The figures show that the amount students owe on federal student loans has almost doubled during the past eight years, rising to $16,928 in 1999-2000 from $9,188 in 1992-93. Over the same period, the percentage of students who take out loans to pay college expenses has risen from 42 percent to 64 percent.

Of those with loans, 39 percent graduate with what the loan industry characterizes as unmanageable debt. That's defined as monthly payments that exceed 8 percent of a person's before-tax income.

Elizabeth Bickford, director of student financial aid at the UO, said the average debt among students at the campus mirrors the national figures for those in four-year programs. Students in five-year programs, such as architecture, education and some music programs, usually graduate with even higher debt because it takes longer to earn their degrees.

Larry Smith, who directs the UO Career Center, said not only are students running up substantial debt to get a degree, they're doing it while working part-time jobs to keep from going deeper in the hole. He said 70 percent of UO students work part time during the year to help pay for their education and living expenses.

"Students are hard-working," he said Thursday. "I think sometimes there's this myth that college is all fun and games and not much work, but that's not been my experience."

Rachel Pilliod, a sophomore pre-medicine and political science major, said she's working 20 to 30 hours a week at two jobs while carrying 18 credits this term. She's trying to stay out of debt at the UO because she knows she'll have to borrow a lot to get through medical school. …