WVPA Sharing

Lagging behind: Series on College debt

College debts haunt students long after graduation

(Editor’s note: This is the first story in a three-part series examining the long-lasting burden of college debt on students, graduates and parents of college-aged students.)

BY JOHN FINNERTY

CNHI – Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Sara Garside Ellis could buy a Mercedes sports car with $130,000.

Or a vacation condo.

Or, maybe more important to the physics teacher, a home.

But $130,000 is how much Ellis still owes for a degree from Juniata College, a private liberal arts school, and the master’s degree she earned to qualify to teach high school.

An unwitting victim of school funding cuts, Ellis left Pennsylvania because she couldn’t land a job in the classroom. Instead she lives in Maryland, where she works in a poverty-stricken district in a job that qualifies her for $17,500 in loan forgiveness after five years.

To take advantage of the program, she cannot consolidate her loans. That forces her to pay about $1,000 a month toward her student loan debt— or about the same amount she expects to pay on a mortgage once she and her husband buy a house.

Things would be different had Ellis, 25, not left Pennsylvania.

“I know that if I would have stayed in Pennsylvania, most likely I would have lived at home for quite a while after graduating simply due to the enormity of my student loan debt,” she said. “It is actually becoming more normal for students to move back home after graduation in order to save up money and to pay off their loans.”

Ellis’ situation reflects a new normal for millennials saddled with mounds of student loan debt, according to economists and consumer advocates.

Americans are adding college loans faster than debt in any other category— including credit cards and car loans, according to the Federal Reserve.

See the series of articles at http://www.timeswv.com

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