Earlier this winter, I had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion with Jens Krogstad of the Des Moines Register, where college graduates shared their financial aid and student debt stories with members of the newspaper’s staff. This past Sunday, our stories were shared as part of a front page special report about how the rising cost of post-secondary education is affecting college students and graduates who have taken out student loans.
The article revealed that Iowa has the third largest average student debt in the United States, with 72% of Iowa’s college graduates holding some amount of student debt. Since my graduation last year, I have invested much of my free time in my own financial education, but I was nevertheless shocked by many of the statistics shared through the story. College costs are escalating too quickly, interest rates are too high, and lack of access to scholarships and grants has forced an ever-growing percentage of college students to turn to student loans as their primary means of paying for their education. This system is flawed, and I know from experience that the road to student debt repayment can feel hopeless and overwhelming.
Student debt is not a death sentence, though, no matter how many trillions of dollars my generation must repay. The one story that never gets told is that student loan repayment can be manageable. After consolidating my student loans and carefully refining my budget last summer, I now feel empowered and capable of repaying my debt and building a strong financial future. After I build up my emergency fund, I plan to begin contributing more than my minimum monthly payments so that I can pay back my loans in less time. Would I rather have an extra $250 each month to put toward savings, or retirement, or travel? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that student loan repayment is interfering with the way I live my life.
In my story, I shared personal financial information that has long been taboo to discuss among friends and family, much less the public. But it is my hope that my peers and future generations of college students will not be afraid to discuss student debt, because it is through sharing our stories that our debt can feel a little more manageable, our financial situations a little less hopeless.
Read the front page story from this Sunday’s Des Moines Register, and the vignettes featuring other Iowa college graduates, and you’ll see that, yes, higher education needs to change, but that student debt is something we’re all working through. Maybe you’ll feel a little less alone. Maybe you’ll find the tools you need to take control of your student debt. Maybe you’ll find a way to change this path our system is on for the better.