A rising number of students graduating from college with large student loans are finding they can't buy cars and homes, move up the financial ladder or otherwise improve their lives.
Communities are also hurt when graduates are unable to build a better life, as their parents and grandparents could do when college debt was not as burdensome as it is today.
Such are some of the takeaways from a recent KPCC and Milken Institute event, “The indentured class: The social costs of student debt,” held recently at Occidental College.
“You can never know too much about the financial implications of attending higher education,” said Devon Graves, a UCLA graduate student and student member of the California Student Aid Commission.
“As we think in California, we have students who know their A through G requirements to get into the UC, CSU, but do they really understand the financial burden that comes with that?” he asked.
Nationwide, students graduate with an average of about $28,000 in college loans; in California, students leave college owing an average of about $20,000 — lower than the countrywide average, but still a heavy burden for anyone just starting out.
Here are some do's and don’ts for students and parents on paying for college. We've gathered them from the experts who spoke at the forum and during the reporting leading up to the event:
- Do start early in middle or high school to discuss the financial cost of college and how you'll pay for it.
- Do research about a college's total costs. Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s searchable new College Scorecard that details an institution's tuition, average debt of graduates, and graduates' average salaries. Be especially careful before choosing for-profit colleges; some charge high tuition, but have low graduation rates.
- Do double-up in college dorms; it’s cheaper.
- For students, do find a part-time or temporary job and work during the school year and summer.
- Do start a 529 college savings account for a child or grandchild, but make sure you know the details of these accounts. Understand the penalties for withdrawing funds for non-college related costs.
- Do examine your lifestyle for ways to pay for loans or pay for expenses; savings from cutting $100 a month here and there can be applied to college costs or debt payments.
- For students, don’t live like a king or queen during college. Occidental's financial aid director, Maureen McRae Goldberg, often shares this saying: “If you live like a lawyer when you’re a student, you’ll live like a student when you’re a lawyer.”
- For parents, don’t mortgage your home or liquidate retirement assets to pay for college costs. Choose a college that can provide scholarships and other financial support.
- Don’t take out a Parent Plus loan unless you’re sure you can pay it back, or if you have assets and good credit. There are other ways to borrow money with lower interest rates.
- If you’re a single parent with a child getting financial aid in college, don’t get married until the child graduates, otherwise your greater family income is likely to eliminate your child’s financial aid.
- Once out of college, you can lower your federal loan payments if your disposable income is low through new income-driven repayment plans.
To help students learn about what it takes to get into and pay for college, researchers at USC have created a suite of role-playing games. The games also encourage the players to share knowledge about college admission and financing.