The epidemic of student debt: Even attending a public university renowned for its value can't guarantee immunity


In an era plagued by a terrifying roughly $1.1 trillion in nationwide student loan debt, college graduates can’t afford to pay their rent, buy a home or start a small business. Just moving out of their parents’ home is a feat comparable to a doctoral degree or a promotion to CEO for millennial graduates.

When graduates complain they’re $80,000 in debt, after graduating from a private university with no career goals, it can be difficult to generate sympathy for their predicament. But while luxurious college experiences marked by trips abroad and frivolous degrees do tend to result in skyrocketing loan payments, these outliers serve only to distract from the reality and pervasiveness of the problem.

Seven in 10 college graduates had student debt, averaging $29,400 per student last year, according to The Project on Student Debt. From 2008 to 2012, the amount students owed upon graduation increased by an average of 6 percent every year.

Despite the constant conversation surrounding the problem, the issue continues to permeate the college experience. Less than half of college students took out loans 10 years ago. Now, more than 70 percent are compelled to do so.

The necessity of a bachelor’s degree for jobs that didn’t require one in previous years is compounding this problem. The labor market research firm, Burning Glass, discovered that more companies are “up-credentialing.” For example, while only 19 percent of current employees in secretarial positions have bachelor’s degrees, today, 65 percent of postings now require one. The same pattern is visible across multiple fields, including insurance, human resources and construction.

College is becoming more expensive and bachelor’s degrees are a basically a requirement from employment. But an undergraduate degree means less because of academic inflation – more jobs are requiring not just a bachelor’s degree, but also a master’s.

More degrees require more tuition, which generates even more student debt.

Here at UB, ranked by U.S. News as 19th in the nation for graduating students with the “least debt,” many students seem like they’ve avoided the worst of the loan epidemic, thanks to their (or their parents’) sound financial reasoning.

More than half of UB graduates leave debt-free, according to U.S. News, a remarkable feat compared to alumni of national universities that generate the “most debt,” with graduates averaging staggering, suffocating debts between $35,505 and $47,066.

Despite UB’s high ranking and the praise it garners for its low(er) costs, the average UB student nonetheless graduates owing $17,440.

When living in a city ranked by Forbes as the most affordable nationwide, and attending a public university with a reputation for affordability and positions on several “best value” lists still leave the average student with almost $20,000 to pay back, it’s glaringly obvious that this nation’s system of higher education is broken.

Students who decide to attend UB are making a smart, mature financial choice. Many of them make sacrifices – turning down elite, private universities, living at home, risking their lives in exchange for cheap rent in the Heights – in order to cut down on costs. These tough choices should, at the very least, be worthwhile. Ideally they wouldn’t even be necessary.