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 firstname.lastname@example.org