New legislation helps tackle student debt

By Danielle Kaye

As higher education continues to grow, so does the amount of student debt.

Student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt, leaving the next generation of Americans with an economic burden..

On average, full-time undergraduates are borrowing $4,963 a year to pay for college, according to a USA Today article.

Although UK offers a substantial amount of financial aid, it is impossible to provide every student with all the aid they need.

In the 2010-11 school year, 2,110 incoming freshmen were deemed applicable for financial assistance from the university, according to College Board.

While 2,082 of these students were then offered aid, only 482 had their full needs met.

According to Lynda George, student services director of student financial aid, in a previous Kernel article, “roughly 90 percent of undergraduate and graduate students are receiving some kind of financial aid, and the number of need- based aid increased 17 percent from the 2009-10 to 2010-11 school year.”

However, financial aid is not only offered through the university. Kentucky offers programs such as Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, outside scholarships, grants and work-study programs.

The program rewards high school students, in state, with a certain amount of money for the GPA and ACT scores that they receive. The money can then be used in college for higher education purposes.

Although students are typically offered several options, many students are still required to take out loans to pay for college.

The rates for student loans vary due to what time the loan was taken.

Students rarely take the time to ask proper questions about the loan and educate themselves before signing the loan agreement.

“I was fortunate enough to research my options and not be in debt,” Justin Penny, a biology and classics junior, said. “But I think that many students are unaware of their options.”

The average student debt for graduates at UK during the 2010-11 school year was $19,812, according to the College Board. But this amount is what students owe before going to professional or graduate school, where they may accumulate thousands of more dollars in debt.

The loans that college students face continue to be a burden after formal education until they are paid off.

“The thing that scares me about debt isn’t that I’m in it, it’s that I might not get the job I’m acquiring the debt for,” Katelyn Mason, a psychology sophomore, said.

Current laws for loans allow “borrowers to limit their loan payments to 15 percent of their discretionary income and forgives all remaining debt after 25 years,” according to a USA Today article.

However, few students are aware of this option and how to determine eligibility for the program.

With a daunting 1 trillion dollars of debt estimated for loans alone this year, the Obama administration took action to help manage the problem.

On October 25, legislation was passed to help manage debt and payment issues associated with student loans.

The legislation included the “Pay As You Earn” program, which will allow “about 1.6 million students the ability to cap their loan payments at 10 percent starting next year,” according to a news release from the White House regarding Obama’s new policy. Further more it “will forgive the balance of their debt after 20 years of payments.”

The legislation will also enable students and recent college graduates to consolidate loans and reduce interest rates beginning in January, according to the White House.

The legislation will provide students with the “Know Before You Owe” project, which will create an “Aid Shopping Sheet” compiled by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Department of Education.

The “Aid Shopping Sheet” will serve students to better understand the monetary obligations, providing total cost and risk to students before signing the loan.

The sheet will also help students better understand the type and amount of aid they qualify for and easily compare aid packages offered by different institutions, according to the White House.

Although this legislation has been passed, students are still feeling the pressure of student loans and debt accumulate.

Emily Cross, an undeclared sophomore, is currently feeling the pressure given the uncertainty regarding her education.

“It makes me feel really anxious to have the debt on my shoulders, especially because I’m not entirely sure of what my major is yet,” Cross said. “I almost feel like the debt I’m going into isn’t justified.”