Nov. 3, 2011 -- Two-thirds of all college students now graduate with debt -- and the amount they accumulate to pay for their education keeps growing by the year.
According to a new report by The Project on Student Debt, the average senior with student loans is graduating with $25,250 in debt, up 5 percent since the prior year.
The subject has recently come to the forefront because of the protesters of Occupy Wall Street, who have come together in cities across the country and abroad to shed light on the problems of the so-called "99 percent." They not only protest on the streets, but have formed coalitions on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr -- most recently forming Occupy Student Debt, a page dedicated to people sharing their stories about struggling with student loan debt.
"Fourteen dollars per hour is not what I envisioned while struggling to balance working and attending school," said one poster. "Do I eat tonight, or pay on my loans? I am getting married in March, but what then? Can I ever afford to have a child, or have a home? These dreams that were suppose to be attainable through hard work, no longer seem possible."
While many are struggling to repay their loans, the class of 2010 may have a harder time. Reports show that they are facing the highest unemployment rate for new college graduates in recent history at 9.1 percent. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for people under 30 is at 13 percent.
"I am in debt! Student loans in excess of $100,000," said Pamela Kennard of Pearland, Texas. "I am a teacher with a masters degree and cannot find a job! I will never earn enough money to pay back my student loans."
The amount of debt not only seems to vary school to school, but also from region to region. The report shows that students in the Northeast and Midwest tend to have more student loan debt than people living in the West. New Hampshire was the state with the highest average debt level at $31,048 per student, followed by Maine and Iowa. Utah and Hawaii were the states with the lowest debt average at $15,509 and $15,550.
According to the report, the disparity may be attributed to fact that a larger group of students attend private, nonprofit, four-year colleges, which tend to be more expensive, while those in the West have a bigger share of students attending public schools.
The report also listed colleges that specifically have students with higher-than-average student loan debt. The private nonprofit colleges, including California Institute of the Arts, Florida Institute of Technology and New York University, all have an average debt from $40,400 to $55,250. The high-debt public colleges, like University of New Hampshire-Main Campus, Alabama State University and Temple University, all have an average of $29,800 to $45,350.
Private, for-profit colleges were not included on either list because so few of them report the relevant debt data needed to be listed, and generally don't respond to the survey that The Project on Student Debt uses to compile data. The most recent national data, however, shows that 96 percent of graduates from those schools took out loans and borrowed 45 percent more than graduates from other four-year colleges.
On the other hand, the report also reported the schools with the lowest debt levels for the class of 2010, all of which reported students with an average debt between $950 and $8,700 -- many that are generally colleges with low tuition, but some with high endowments that may not admit students who can't pay tuition and give lower income students generous aid packages. Princeton University, CUNY Hunter College and Texas Southern University are among them.
President Obama announced his plan to help borrowers inundated with student loan debt earlier this month. The plan includes capping federal loan payments at 10 percent of borrowers' discretionary income -- that limit is set at 15 percent now -- making loans forgivable after 20 years instead of 25, and provides the opportunity to reduce some federal loan interest payments. The administration said it would give students the opportunity to consolidate their Federal Family Education Loans with their Direct Loans and reduce the interest rate for those who do that by half a percent.
The president said the plan could help up to 6 million borrowers -- which is just a fraction of the 36 million saddled with student loans across the country, leaving many still looking for answers.
"I work two jobs and I am still struggling to make ends meet," said Lira Hoxha of Wallington, N.J. "I cannot find a better job that pays more. I cannot defer on the loans because interest rates is added daily. It feels like there is no way out."