Student debt impacts NKU alumni

Whether he was doing homework, participating in fraternity events, running or working, Robert Hamm used to be your typical student here at NKU. But that all changed in May.

In May of 2014, Hamm shipped out to Missouri for basic training in the National Guard. Part of his reasoning behind joining was because the National Guard agreed to pay off his student debt.

“I am joining the National Guard because they are offering 100 percent tuition for four years of schooling—so I will be debt free,” Hamm said.

While he always considered joining the National Guard, Hamm said the reason he finally decided to join was because he faced an estimated $48,000 in student loan debt upon graduating from NKU.

Student debt is at an all-time high of $1.08 trillion, according to the US Department of Education, with an average debt of $29,400 per student, according to a study published by the Institute for College Access and Success.

However, not all college students can join a branch of the military  to decrease their financial burden, so students must find ways to cope with large amounts of debt as the cost of college continues to rise.

Brittany Anna Barnett is an alumnus of Northern Kentucky University, and in just four and a half years of schooling she managed to incur more than $30,000 in debt from student loans.

While in school, Barnett received $3,000 in out-of-state scholarships from the university, and when she moved in-state at the end of her sophomore year she received $5,000 in grant money. But it wasn’t enough; Barnett had to take out more loans to pay for school.

Both Barnett and Hamm said they weren’t educated enough about student loans before starting college.

“I mean you always hear about student loans, but you never realize how much you need until you get there and you’re like $12,000 in debt your first year,” Hamm said.

Barnett encourages underclassman to save as much money as possible during undergrad and apply for as many scholarships as they possibly can. “Even the $100 ones are worth it and can add up quickly,” she said.

Travis Hall, a financial aid coordinator at NKU, thinks it’s important for students to search the financial aid website and look through all the scholarships available, whether they are through NKU or an outside source.

“Our website has a ton of good information,” Hall said. “We have an A-Z listing of donor scholarships. These are scholarships that outside organizations have contacted us about and if you meet the criteria we will forward your information to the organization to make the determination if you are eligible for those too.”

On the website students can also find a listing of scholarships from outside organizations that they can apply on their own.

Because she didn’t know the true value of scholarships or the impact student loans would have on her future, Barnett is stuck with the burden of paying off the $30,000 for her Bachelor of Arts in psychology.

“My monthly loan payments, before consolidation because I do not make enough money to have kept the original payment amount, were comparable to that of a monthly car payment on a brand new sedan,” Barnett said.

She is not alone. In a speech at the University of Buffalo, President Barack Obama announced that he and first lady Michelle Obama also struggled with their loans.

“We know a little bit about trying to pay back student loans too, because we didn’t come from a wealthy family, so we each graduated from college and law school with a mountain of debt,” Obama said. “And even though we got good jobs, we barely finished paying it off just before I was elected as the United States Senate. I was in my 40’s when we finished paying off our debt, and we should have been saving for Malia and Sasha by then.”

Over the past six years of his presidency, Obama has made reducing student loan debt a priority. “So bottom line is this, we’ve got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt,” he said. “And over the past four years what we have tried to do is to take some steps to make college more affordable.”

Since this speech Obama has promised to expand the new pay-as-you-earn-system, which allows students to put 10 percent of their paychecks towards their student loans each month, as compared to large payments like Barnett had.
“I think the pay-as-you-earn system is a great idea,” Hamm said. “It would be great for all students who have incurred large amounts of debt. It would allow them to begin paying off loans while also having enough money for living expenses so that they aren’t struggling to get by.”