Sunday, April 20, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Grad students speak out on debt

By R. Eliot Crafton

On Wednesday, graduate and professional students at UC Davis joined graduate and professional students from 26 schools around the nation to host a “Call Congress” day in conjunction with the GradsHaveDebt2 campaign. The event was successful, with more than 850 calls to Congress made from around the country.

The purpose of the campaign, created by the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students and its members, is to educate legislators and the public about postgraduate student debt and interest rate inequality and to give voice to graduate and professional students in the student loan conversation.

Student debt in the United States has been an ever-increasing problem in recent years, and is now estimated to exceed all American credit card debt. Massive student debt hurts all Americans as it prevents students and their families from being active participants in the economy by limiting their ability to invest in major purchases like buying homes and cars, starting small businesses and starting families. Simultaneously, it creates individual challenges for students and their families who struggle to find the financial support necessary to attain a higher education degree.

Current debt levels for graduate and professional students are staggering. The average master’s student in the United States accumulates $52,000 in debt while pursuing their degree; the average doctoral student, $72,000 in debt; and the average professional student, $113,000 in debt.

Graduate and professional students have higher debt burdens, on average, than undergraduates since they often carry debt from their undergraduate studies into their graduate studies. They are also typically older than undergraduate students and no longer have parental support, and instead, they may have families of their own to support.

Despite these challenges, graduate and professional student debt has been paid little attention in the conversation about national student loan debt, and recent political efforts continue to strip away loan options for graduate and professional students, which increases their debt levels.

For example, in July 2012 graduate and professional students lost their eligibility to obtain subsidized Stafford loans. Losing the subsidy means graduate and professional students now accrue interest on their loans while pursuing their degrees, which adds $18 billion to postgraduate student debt over the next 10 years. More recently, this summer’s student loan legislation increased the interest rate cap from 6.8 to 9.5 percent on graduate Stafford loans and from 7.9 to 10.5 percent on graduate PLUS loans.

In short, graduate education continues to be more expensive at a time when we need more advanced degrees than ever. The Department of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs requiring graduate degrees will grow nearly 20 percent in the next five years. These jobs will be crucial for reinvigorating the economy and continuing America’s growth, yet, the federal government continues to send signals to American students that graduate school and debt is not important enough for its investment.

Last week, students at UCD tried to change this trajectory by speaking up about the benefits of graduate education and the financial need that graduate and professional students face. Graduate education will continue to help our nation achieve its highest potential and we ask that Congress take action to reduce graduate student debt to ensure this is possible.

For more information, visit the GradsHaveDebt2 Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GradsHaveDebt2.

— R. Eliot Crafton, is external chair for the UC Davis Graduate Student Association, writing on behalf of the association’s Executive Council. Reach him at gsaexeternalchair@ucdavis.edu

Special to The Enterprise

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Discussion | 6 comments

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  • Jim LeonardDecember 08, 2013 - 8:31 am

    We treat education as merely that which is a means for getting a better job. We ignore education as a good in itself, socially beneficial to the general society, or necessary for a functioning democracy. Education debt should be abolished. There is even an argument for paying students to expand their education during periods of high unemployment.

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  • Noreen MazelisDecember 08, 2013 - 1:20 pm

    Wanna lower student debt? 1) Stop ALL government (read: taxpayer) support of student loans; and, 2) students need to stop pursuing "graduate studies" in useless subjects UNLESS these student wish to pay for this pursuit by themselves -- with no expectation of gainful employment thereafter.

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  • greg johnsonDecember 08, 2013 - 2:28 pm

    Student debt is out of control, and there will likely be high default rates. When I was an undergrad at UCD, we lived cheaply, drove old beater cars (or, like myself, didn't own one), went to dollar pitcher night at the Grad, studied in old buildings, AND paid little reg fees. Somehow, this has evolved into a country club situation with nice cars, new stadiums/recreational facilities, and more overpaid administrators, and a lot of the bill falls on the students. At the same time, many people end up with relatively worthless degrees (I'm talking money here Jim, not the intrinsic value to the soul), and enter into a struggling economy already behind the eight ball. The government has the wrong priorities and the country is falling apart. To borrow from the screenplay of ANIMAL HOUSE, "fat, drunk and stupid" (and lazy) is no way to compete in the world economy.

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  • Jim LeonardDecember 08, 2013 - 4:26 pm

    Greg, competition cannot stand without cooperation. The term didn't exist 300 years ago since there actually is no need for the term. The nation--state didn't exist as such as well. Tribes, associations, and families existed. Primarily they existed because of cooperation; if competition were the primary drive, they would have killed themselves off a long time ago. Intelligence gave people the edge over other species and was a quality that facilitated cooperation amongst themselves. Education--exchange of information--provided the medium which made collective intelligence possible. Whether collective intelligence was facilitated through art or science, the development of it was always beneficial. Your attitude towards education is too narrow. Expand your viewpoint. My point of view has to do with basic survival and is not utopian. Exercise of the body brings great results whether it is in building a house or running marathons; similarly, exercise of the mind brings great results for our species whether it is supporting a career path like engineering or learning for learning's sake. Get it?

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 08, 2013 - 7:25 pm

    "The term didn't exist 300 years ago since there actually is no need for the term. The nation--state didn't exist as such as well. Tribes, associations, and families existed." .... In the early 1700s, life expectancy was about 30 years. (See: emlab berkeley edu.) I would not romanticize that time. Life is much, much better today across the globe (due largely to trade and yes, competition). ......... A large share of people in most countries were held in some form of slavery or serfdom in 1713. The vicious circle of poverty, malnutrition and disease made life for most brutish and short. Although life by 1713 was far better in Europe than in the rest of the planet, and far better than it had been 400 years earlier in Europe (during the black plague), there were still commonly terrible epidemics which would wipe out entire communities in the early 18th century. And don't think these plagues did not affect the primitive parts of the world, too. They did. Roughly 90% of all indigenous Americans, for example, died of diseases (small pox, measles, flu, other viruses) brought by the Spanish in the early 1500s. The main reason they were vulnerable was because they had not experienced those diseases over centuries and had little natural defense. But it is also true that they were vulnerable in part due to their poor diets and poor state of health.

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  • greg johnsonDecember 08, 2013 - 8:21 pm

    Jim, I'm sure you're a really good guy, and I don't disagree with your philosophy. Education is wonderful. Learning is wonderful. I love to learn for self enrichment. However, in the modern US world, learning is expensive. Actually, learning is free (time and effort required only) but getting the piece of paper which represents the "official" process of learning is expensive, so it better damn well result in a job that allows one to repay this debt. I am very disillusioned about the way the UC system has gone. People talk about the military industrial complex. I think we have an education industrial complex. If I were king I would have standardization of most college coursework (physics, chem, bio, engineering, etc.) and people could self'-study and take an exam with a proctor for a $50 dollar fee. The whole process has become a scam. Charging kids $1200/month to be packed like sardines in dorm rooms and eat slop is a crime. I don't know when (or if) people will wake up and smell the craziness.

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