Share your story: Degrees Not Debt


Student loan debt is erupting—more than 70 percent of America’s students borrow money to attend college, and the average student graduates from college owning nearly $30,000. Total student loan debt currently stands at a staggering $1.2 trillion, surpassing total credit card debt.

Are you one of the 40 million Americans affected by student debt? Whether you’re a student, a parent or an educator, please share your story. Make sure Congress and voters know what debt really looks like.


At a time when post-secondary education has become even more important, students and their families are scrambling to pay for that education. We jeopardize our future, as a nation and as a global competitor; if we do not help our future leaders realize their potential.  We must ensure a college and post-secondary education is affordable and attainable.

Over the last 20 years, the cost of higher education has shifted dramatically from the state to the student, and the burden on students and their families is growing:

  • When the Pell Grant program was first created, the maximum grant for the poorest students covered over 80 percent of the cost of a public four-year college.  Today, it doesn’t even cover 40 percent.
  • Average cost of tuition at a public college increased 4.8% this past year, following increases of 8.4% in 2011-12 and 8.0% in 2010-11, but median household income has fallen 8 percent since 2007.
  • Even with the average debt skyrocketing, unemployment for young college graduates remained high at 8.8 percent in 2011.
  • Unlike most forms of debt, student loan debt cannot be erased through bankruptcy.
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Reader Comments

  1. We will all continue to struggle, if we don’t band together and work together to change our past, present and future college costs issues, especially those that address student loans, which hampers our future and future of our children and their children.

  2. Maybe we should all rally to sue the government. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness should not come with a mountain of debt. I would not have the job I currently have without my education! That job allows me to pay taxes of which the already INDEPENDENTLY obscenely wealthy politicians POCKET!!

  3. What happened to being able to file BK on the student loans. This program is out of control now. Much easier to get loans, and they are given. A State can file BK, a City can file BK on loans, but we cant file BK on student loans. When the housing market crashed, people were filing BK and there debts were discharged all but student loans. People losing their homes, cars and everything else due to no jobs, but still had to pay there student loans. This was a big let down by the Government, cause the banks got bail outs and the people didn’t and they are still trying to recover. This is wrong! The people lost their homes, cars and everything they had, banks got bailed out, and the people had to pay on their student loans. No bankruptcy protection for the people. The Student Loan program needs to be restructured so that their is more of a balance.

    1. When we must resort to being saved by having the opportunity to file BK on student loan debt, we are all still are at a great loss. Yes, all of us. This means our purchasing power is weakened, which weakens our economy, and as a result, our nation. Do our leaders care about creating an American workforce? Leaders, please step up and stop this nonsense.

  4. I have a son who graduated from art school with over $80K in debt, which he is struggling to pay and still have money to live. I co-signed them so if he defaults, I’m on the hook to pay them back. As you can guess, it has added stress to our relationship. My daughter saw what he’s going through and decided to take the route of 2 years in community college, then finishing at a 4 year state school to keep her debt down. She’s actually on her own so her meager income gives her access to grants that my son did not qualify for. And on top of my son’s situation, we went through the NJCLASS loan program, and I can tell you they are absolutely the rudest people I have ever dealt with. Anyone living in NJ that is considering getting a loan through them, STAY AWAY, you’ll be sorry otherwise.
    I am convinced student loan debt is our next national crisis, unless the powers that be can do something to bring jobs back to our country. Since people in third world nations make a lot less than what someone in the US would, even at minimum wage, I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
    There is going to be an ever-widening gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, as only the “haves” will be able to afford to have their children college educated.

  5. Three weeks ago my daughter was diagnosed with MS.

    In 2006 she graduated from a state university. She took college classes in high school and was able to complete her education in three years. Each year she qualified for about $4,700 in government loans, but that barely covered her tuition and books. She still needed to borrow additional money for her dorm/housing, meal ticket/food, etc, so each year thereafter she had to take out a private student loan for around $8,000. The original total amount borrowed was around $14,100 for her government loans and around $24,000 for the private loans or a total of $38,100. She’s been making her payment for eight years and she still owes around $50,000! All that deferred interest really added up each year while she was in school.Plus, the biggest part of her payments are interest.

    So with a bad job market for the past eight years after coming out of school, and then only getting low paying jobs, it makes it hard for the young people today to get ahead. Boy did the greedy banks see a way to make some fantastic money on the backs of our kids for the years to come! It’s worse than a loan shark and our government doesn’t do anything to help. To make matter worse, the banks got laws passed where the kids can never discharge their student loan debt…..unless they die! They will take your social security or disability payments when you’re old if the loans aren’t or can’t be paid.

    My daughter is right handed and does graphic design. MS is affecting her back, neck, right arm and hand. She can’t use her hand right now and is barely hanging on at her job. The doctor told her stress is really bad when you have MS and can aggravate attacks. Sadly, she is so stressed about losing her job and not being able to pay her student loans. She should be worried about what the MS will do to her health. She feels her life is over, because she’ll never be out of debt and disabled forever. My heart aches for her.

    1. Actually, dying apparently doesn’t even excuse a student loan debt! There’s a recent petition going around to help the family of their daughter who died, and the gov’t. STILL wants their money.

    2. Dear ladies, please go to my Facebook page and send me a private message. I have some great ideas for you to lower your monthly payments to (next to nothing)!!!!
      Sincerely and God bless,
      Lori Wylie,

      1. Lori..I looked for you on Facebook but there are many Lori Wylie’s…I’m interested to hear more about reducing payments to next to nothing…maybe you can share here for all to benefit from your techniques.

      2. Couldnt find you on Facebook. Would you mind to contact me?
        I’d love to hear how I could decrees my student loans!

    3. Your daughter can actually have all of her government loans discharged if she becomes totally and permanently disabled. My husband also MS and had student loans and we had his discharged. I’m not sure about private loans though. I have read that in some instances when you declare bankruptcy for medical conditions that student loans can be discharged it is just very difficult.

    4. I am so sorry… I think her next step is to file for disability. If they declare her permanently so, her loans will be forgiven.

  6. Education should be a priority in this country. We are falling behind. The House makes the budget and you can see how education is on the priority list when you see the amount of money they appropriate for it. Send a message at the next election and let them know why. Our teachers are underpaid. The coaches at colleges are vastly overpaid. Choose a school that puts the emphasis on the education.

  7. My son, 21, wasn’t the best student in high school, having never lived up to his potential. He was interested in computers and started taking classes at a local community college after high school because my husband and I were not going to pay tons of money or take out loans for tuition in the event our son still didn’t perform in school. He only lasted a year in community college and failed most of his classes because he was bored and din’t put in any effort. He wanted to quit school and work full time at the local supermarket where he had been working part time for about 2 years. We were able to convince him that if he wanted to get ahead in life he needed a degree and we encouraged him to go into the military. After months of worrying about it he finally enlisted in the USAF and will be graduating his tech school next month. He was an excellent soldier in BMT and has excelled in all his technical school classes. Just for finishing tech school he will have almost enough credits for an Associates Degree and will begin working on computer networking, which he loves. He will be able to enroll in college to finish his B.A. degree and have it all paid by the military. Enlisting in the USAF was by far the best decision our son could have ever made as he is getting so much out of it in exchange for what he has put in.

    We have two children who are now just starting high school and we are beginning to encourage them to go into the military because unless they get scholarships to college, we cannot afford to pay. My husband and I have to save for our retirement and we can’t do both. I would so rather have my kids commit four years of their lives to our government and have their educations paid for than have them be indebted up to their ears to get college degrees. The system is so broken right now and there is nothing that a middle class family can do right now to make it easier for their kids to have a good chance at life after high school. We need to control college costs and make tuition and other expenses manageable for families and we need to dramatically cut interest rates on new and existing loans so that our kids can get started working on being self-sufficient adults on their own without being saddled with so much debt that they can’t afford rent, a reliable car, etc. Something needs to be done to help our kids!

    1. The first person who should help my child is me. The first person who should help your child is you! Military is the option my granddaughter chose but there is always the risk of death which thereby ends all tuition questions for everyone.

      1. This is how I ended up with a parent plus loan in 2004.I was to afraid to let my son sign up while we were in Iraq. Parent plus is higher interest. I would pay any price for my kids to go to school. Good luck to your grand daughter.

      2. That’s all well and good but not everyone has parents who can help. Most of the college loan debt belongs to people who have no choice but to help themselves. There’s no way either of my parents could help me and theres no way as a single parent I could work enough to cover my expenses and parent my child and be successful in school nor could I continue to raise my child as a single parent at minimum wage jobs. And the odds of her going to school and having a better life than me if I dont have a degree are incredibly slim. Nobody should be punished for pursuing a higher education while being born to a low income family. We’re the only 1st world country that treats education this way.

      3. Death does not close out the debt on student loans. If the student dies, the responsibility for payment falls to the next of kin.

        1. Could you tell what your source is for this comment, “Death does not close out the debt on student loans. If the student dies, the responsibility for payment falls to the next of kin.”? Our daughter was an adult when she signed these loans. We, as her parents, did NOT cosign for her loans. She believes that if she dies prematurely, the loan will die with her.
          Thanks for any information you can give me here.

      4. Just wondering, how does one help their child when their own income doesn’t even cover: housing, food, utilities, gasoline, health care, insurance, potentially a car payment, clothes, repairs ????
        Many people in America are at that level. There is NO disposible income- period. They have no 401K’s, no savings, no pension plan. Look at the statistics economically in America and see how many subsist from paycheck to paycheck.
        Really- you must realize that a fund for college is not possible for many more families that you could ever imagine.

    2. The military was a good idea when there were no wars that we were participating in back in the times of President Clinton’s reign. Now if your child enlists in any of the armed forces he/she could be sent to war zones. They may get severely injured, paralyzed for life and many are killed. Military is not so good of an idea in these present times, maybe it will be a safe choice again someday after the US brings all of our troops home. I would not suggest the military to any young person and especially not my own child.

      1. Good God! The military is not such a good idea when there are wars? Why do you think the military exists? It can’t always be someone else’s son or daughter. Problem is, except for the USMC, ads promote the idea their branch will train you with some skill. The USMC will train you, to be a leader, instill integrity and teach you ways to kill people along the way.

        But I guess that’s how most everyone now thinks. All the same people who think the government should take care of them and all their problems.

    3. Such a sad day in America when the best option is to join the milatary so that a young person can get an education and not be riddled with massive student debt. Many young people are not suitable for military life due to ADD or depression or some other form of (mental or nervous-system) health. These young people must monitor stress levels and take control over foods, supplements, excercise, fresh air, sunshine in order to mazimize their health and minimize their body-stress.
      Joining the military is not an ‘equal-opportunity’ option for all in order to afford an education.
      Is this what the great country America is really all about?
      That being said- I have many family members who did serve in the Military and it was the right thing for them. I have lost two uncles in wars. I honor all our vets and miliary personelle for the hard work and loyalty to our country and their courage too.

  8. I am tired of being penalized because I chose to get married and stay married. If both of our incomes are considered for our children’s grant applications so should others who have 2 parents even if they aren’t married. Our son is going to be in debt for more than $100,000 with a payment of over $1000 a month when he graduates. How will he ever be able to live on his own?

    1. Hi Jody,
      I can understand your frustration, I would probably feel the same way if I were in your shoes. But please remember that there are people out there who are no longer married because one of the parents didn’t put their child first.
      In my situation, while he could afford to pay something and should, he refused to contribute to his daughter’s education, and unless there is a note within the divorce agreement, requiring to contribute, he is not legally responsible.
      If they had included his income in my daughter’s FAFSA, I would have had to pay as IF I were in a marriage with 2 incomes. So that wouldn’t work either.
      I suppose the solution might be to change divorce laws to attach the non-custodial parent’s pay throughout the college years.

      1. Libby,
        If the child is denied a loan because of ex-spouse’s income, cut it from the check before he or she gets it and send it to the child’s account at the school. Also on income tax, since both spouses incomes would be used for education, I feel both should claim half of the college expenses on income tax returns.

    2. Currently, if a divorced parent remarries, the step-parent’s income is used in the calculation- even if that step-parent has no bond with the child/student and has no intention of ever funding any of their education. Now that’s not fair!
      In ’79 when I was applying to college I was allowed to claim that I was ‘independent’ (my parent/step parent did not claim me on their income tax for two year). I then could apply for college financial aide based on just my income. That was allowed back then, and since my mom had been very low income all the yrs I grew up- no money was aloted for college. They (mom/step dad)had married when I was a senior in high school and he had no bond with me and has never planned to contribe, and in fact never contributed one dollor towards my education. But the law is now changed from that time, and a step parent (no matter how recent) must be include when applying for college financial aid. And there are nearly no ways for a student to claim “independent’ until after the age of 24. So now what America? More and more students waiting till 24 before they start college??

  9. As an educator, I know we are grossly underpaid and overworked. It is a sad state of affairs that we even have to take out a loan to become a teacher. Why doesnt the state government step up to the plate and pay our debt. In these days and times educators should be encouraged and compensated fairly for the mammoth job that we do. Paid tuition would be a just compensation.

    1. If you are an educator and work for Head Start the government will pay for your education if you get this education while employed by Head Start.

      1. I would like to know more about Being a Head Start Teacher and having you’r schooling paid for. I am currently a Head Start Teacher and am unaware of this program. I am currently attending a University and will be graduating soon. Please advise.

      2. Not everyone wants to work for Head Start. In order to teach in elementary schools, there are many other degrees that are required.

  10. I went back to school in 2005 to become a teacher. The first 2 years, I paid my own tuition at a community college to get my required Math, Political Science and foreign language credits. I couldn’t get financial aid, even as a single mom, because I had attended the college in previous years, and had too many withdrawals (even though I graduated, received an associate and had a 3.5 GPA). Like before, I had to work full-time, so I took classes on my time off, and paid full price. When I decided to go for my Bachelors in Education, I wrote essays to get a small scholarship toward my tuition, but again, I didn’t qualify for financial aid, as I fell just above the poverty level…so I took out a student loan. Fortunately, my college of choice transferred many of my previous credits from community college, so my loans totalled out at $13,000 by the time I was done (2.5 years). The interest rate was manageable at first, and the payments fairly low, based on my income. After 2 years of teaching, however, I experienced my first layoff, and had to go into forbearance. When I was employed again, I began paying the loan again, but now the payments and interest had increased. I arranged to pay less, but it was only paying the interest. This has been the pattern since 2007, and now, the total is just under $10,000, after 7 years! I was turned down for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, because I worked out of my (low income) district for one year…I need 5 consecutive years in the district to qualify again. So I must wait to reapply, and will only get $5,000 forgiven, if I can even get it. I have considered getting my Masters in Education, but that is not feasible for me. My salary as a teacher has not increased more than $500 since 2009. I am always in danger of another layoff. I have other, smaller debts, so I cannot add another. My best bet is to get National Boards certification, but even that will cost $2,000 or more. My options, sadly, are still pretty limited, after 7 years of teaching, full-time!

  11. I heard the government was offering $9,000 TEACH grants in need of science teachers. So, I decided to “go back” to graduate school to become a teacher. However, the government cut my TEACH grant every year for the past three years. I end up receiving only about $5,000 of the $9,000 I was “promised.” Result? A $38,000 graduate bill (and I haven’t even received my Masters yet)! I will take me over 10 years to pay off this school debt on a meager teacher’s salary of $35-$40 K per year. The government needs science teachers, yet who wants to take a teaching job at a rate of 6%-8% interest? Every year, I watched the interest rate on my student loan go up! And, I don’t even have a job yet…

    1. Call the loan servicer and tell them to recalculate your payments according to your adjusted gross income. They may be calculating it based on your gross income! Worth a try. Also any medical bills, credit card of tax debt could qualify you for reduced HARDSHIP payments. Take on a roommate and let them live with you for free, then claim them as a DEPENDENT! GET CREATIVE! Put $$$ away in a 403b and reduce your AGI. If you teach, and if your salary is near or below the poverty line for (for the area where you live), you my qualify for income sensitive payments. You may end up paying $50-100 per month for 10 years and THEN get public service forgiveness! Study all your options. Good luck!

  12. We have financially assisted our three sons through college by paying
    the interest on their loans for ten years! As they have each entered the work force, two have graduated and the third is in his fourth year of Nursing School and in another year will enter the work force as well. All will have landed professional jobs through time, but all have had debts as high as 80 – 90 thousand and that was with our help on interest payments. It’s horrendous! My married son lives with his wife and another married couple because neither of the couples can afford to pay rent and school loans! Young married couples shouldn’t have to share an apartment! Also what has become apparent to us, is that even though our sons have professional positions, are adults now and are paying their way, we cannot get the “parent plus loans” off our debt ( the boys paying us for these loans) which affects our debt ratio in trying to move! There should be a way for these loans to be transferred to them once they have secured positions and pay their bills. This has to change. It is unfair to the children of our nations future to have to continue like this. Help is definitely needed in the appropriation of college funds for future students.

  13. I rolled my graduate student loan debt from law school into our mortgage when we moved and purchased a home because the interest rate was half on the mortgage of my student loan rate. Granted, it’s still a long time in paying it off but I saved a boat load on interest (and if refinance to a lower mortgage rate, even more savings).

  14. I don’t expect to win any popularity votes with this comment. As a Guidance Counselor I have noticed a shift in the last several years. Many juniors & seniors are expressing concern about college loans. However, it all seems to end there. Why are students choosing to attend schools that cost $55,000/year when they have little or no money? Countless options for an excellent education are out there that cost 50, 60, 70% less.

    Teens need to make mature decisions regarding money. True, they may have to sacrifice their “dream” school. Welcome to reality. Four years later you may want to drive a BMW but . . .

    1. Because starting salaries for graduates of a top-tier school are higher than low-tier schools and over a lifetime, that is a big shift in income potential.

    2. I would imagine the fear of post college unemployment is scarier that debt. Maybe your students realize that good jobs only exist for those graduating from the most expensive schools. It is awful to hear a guidance counselor bad mouth her students for dreaming big.

      -employed state school graduate with too much debt

    3. Diane, as a guidance counselor you should know that students with “little to no money” can receive significant financial assistance from many selective universities. It’s unsettling that you’re steering kids with fewer resources away from schools because of cost.

      I’m not going to rehash what Mack K and Jeffrey Hamilton have said so well, but I hope you take their comments to heart and educate yourself so you can serve your students better.

    4. It is actually less expensive for my children to go to an out of state private school than to go to a NJ state school. Yes the school tuition is $41000, but, after scholarship and grant money they received from a private school the tuition ended up being $23000. They were not eligable for ANY help here in NJ. It was going to cost my daughter $29000 a year at Rowan and I’m sure that has gone up in the last 2 years.

    5. Teens are immature that is why they cannot sign contracts without another adult’s support. That is more than they have been trained for. Some of that is part of the parenting process.

    6. Schools like Harvard and Yale of school for free a family makes below $80k. I think it’s disgusting that you’re discouraging kids from going to their dream school. There are ways.

  15. I Am A Single Mother of 3 Boys 10 and under Living Below The Poverty Level Since I Left Graduate School. I cannot afford to pay 100,000.00 in student loan when I get $132 in food stamps/snap program. I feel because we are pawns on a chessboard we are not as important as Sallie Mae, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America,etc. to be bailed out of our debt. I do not want to be in debtors prison.

    1. i understand. i have an assoc. degree in liberal arts. (which qualified me to do nothing) and tried to go back to school and take paralegal studies for another assoc. degree. due to medical reasons i was not able to finish the program and had to start a new major in graphic design. (which not even the top students at my school can seem to find a paying job doing) and in a dead end career and i have too many credits to switch to a bachelors my coulselors tell me i have no choice but to finish the graphic design and i owe $56K in student loan debt. i dont have a job. im on forebearance for now but what the hell am i gonna do now? my health isnt good enough to return to school for the assoc in graphic design . this is a hopeless case for me . ill have nothing to show for it and no retirement money from paying student loans. i dont even know where i will be able to live come spring when school has my classes available. ill be on the street without a new loan.

    2. Don’t default. Ask for income sensitive adjustments for your monthly payments. Or get on PAYE if you can. Get loan payments adjusted for your ADJUSTED GROSS INCOME. You’ve got plenty of dependents, remember, the lower taxes you pay the lower the GI, the lower your monthly payments. If you teac your loans can be forgiven 10 years. Study every angle. If your a beginning teacher in an urban area, you may fall near poverty level. You can qualify for income sensitive. Take on a dependent (another struggling student as a roommate). Offer her free rent in exchange for using her as a dependent on your taxes! This will lower your AGI about 7,800. Be creative!

  16. My husband and I are both teachers. Our son and daughter were great students. Both received scholarships, worked while in school but needed loans to pay tuition, books, etc. Both have graduated and are teachers. One has his master’s degree and is currently enrolled in a doctorate program. Combined, they have a debt of $90,000. My husband and I are nearing retirement and will have to use a large portion of our retirement to help them pay off their loans. Another family member is unemployed due to health reasons, her husband is an alcoholic and is unemployed. Their son is a great student as well and has received a Bill Gates Millenium Scholarship. His tuition, books etc. are paid for. He will have to work to keep his grades up. I know my kids would not trade their lives for his and I am thankful for all the blessings we have received. But on the other hand I sometimes think hard-working middle class families are penalized for working.

  17. I have 2 children who have successfully completed college and graduate school. Now their struggling to pay back Student Loans. Entry level professional positions do not cover the costs of living expenses and Student Loans. How low will our citizens survive on BB&J or Ramin Noodles?
    If we as a nation need an educated working class then we ( government) needs to help to achieve this goal. If this additional time spent in higher education servers no purpose then perhaps the movie “Planet of the Apes” ( the original) had a better perspective on American life than we’d like to accept!

  18. Having a degree does not guarantee or secure a job of any kind. I obviously do not have a degree and to be honest, I’m glad I don’t either. I am skilled I have my CNA, BLS and medical terminology. I’ve worked with physicians to help patients. I’ve been a CNA for 8 years and at one point I was making 15 an hr. A family member of mine who has her Bachelors in social behavior and worked as a social worker for 10 years can’t find a job.

    Education does not guarantee a job and people need to know that. These days it’s all about who you know and what they think you can do. I was offered a job at as a security guard although I have never done this before nor do I have any knowledge of what a security guard does… I was offered this job.

    Education and medical is FAR TOO EXPENSIVE! We are living in a culture in decline and these upper high class individuals could really care less. This is a sad nation we live in.

  19. Nowadays a college degree is needed to get a job with upward mobility, but at what cost? As a teacher in an urban high school, I’m told to get every student ready for college. I can do my part, but unless there is money available, most of my students will not make it. Even community colleges have had to raise tuition, making it even tougher for my kids to get a higher education to take them places. Something needs to be done, and soon, or we’re going to fall even further behind on the global job market!

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