Economy worries UK students, graduates

By Kellie Oates

Times are tough and with a stagnant economy, forecasts are calling for a steadily slow decline—at least for the next nine or 10 months, economics professor John Garen said.

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, said Lynda George, student services director of student financial aid.

“Unemployment rate is higher than normal across the board in every demographic,” Garen said. “Most students will have to settle for jobs less than ideal right out of college, but experience matters a lot for future prospects.”

Reba Carroll, career center senior assistant director, said having a degree in any field is more likely to get someone hired in a field he or she wants to be in than someone without a degree.

“The economy is challenging these days, but a college education is a powerful investment that can pay off,” Carroll said. “A degree can put one on track for a fulfilling career rather than on a cycle of dead-end, low-paying jobs.”

The economy has taken a definite toll on students when it comes to anxiety about their future, George said.

“Students worry about being able to afford college and if they will have enough money to earn their degree,” George said. “If they are able to earn their degree, they worry about whether they will be able to find a job. If they borrowed loans to attend college, they worry about finding a job that will give them enough money in order to live and to pay off their loans.”

Many UK students and recent graduates have expressed their need for loans or a break from school because of economic strife.

“Before taking out loans I was working 25 to 30 hours a week,” said John Buckman, communication senior. “I had band practice most week nights. I was in school full time and then I had band gigs on the weekends. I couldn’t juggle it all.”

Buckman said he has taken out about $23,000 worth of federal, unsubsidized and subsidized loans.

“If you’re independent and have your own tax records, I found it’s insanely easy to get loans, which makes it kind of dangerous,” Buckman said.

The danger lies in paying off the loans during a time of economical woes, but according to George, most federal loans have a 10-year repayment period.

“Generally students have a six-month grace period after they graduate or after they cease to be enrolled at least half time before they go into repayment,” George said.

Ashley Crawford, a social work senior, received private loans through a bank.

“I took a year off from school and had to start paying back loans in that time,” Crawford said. “I was spending hundreds of dollars a month to pay back my loans and had to lower my payments because I wasn’t able to meet them.”

Crawford said she is unsure about the future. “I’m having to take out more loans to finish this year and I’m scared because I have no idea what I plan on doing when I graduate,” Crawford said.

Josh Bayer, a history graduate, got his degree this past May and is currently waiting tables and to pay off federal loans.

“College is just too expensive and loans are hard to pay off,” Bayer said.

Graduate school is becoming a common trend among recent UK graduates because of the lull in the current market.

Many careers now require at least a master’s degree, Carroll said.

“Grad school isn’t for everyone, but a professional degree can make the job-seeker more marketable to employers,” Carroll said.

Carroll said she would never tell a student to do something that would simply guarantee a job or salary, though.

“I’ve known many people who have chosen fields that they felt promised job security only to find out that it was not a good fit for them and they were miserable,” Carroll said. “If an employee is doing what she loves, she will be naturally motivated.

“(This) will serve her far better; playing it safe is setting yourself up for failure.”

All in all, post-secondary school is worth the while, Garen said.

“College is still a good investment, but it is a long-term investment,” Garen said. “Even though there isn’t much optimism in the present, the future will be brighter.”