Paying for College Continues to Be Increasingly Difficult for NJ Students

By David Cruz

More than 40 million Americans are carrying some college debt. That’s a little more than $1 trillion. Forty million people. That’s greater than the population of Canada, Poland and more than 200 other countries. We’re a nation of indebted college students, preparing to begin their professional lives in a financial hole the likes of which their parents could never have imagined.

A new study by a public policy organization shows that not only are more college students graduating with student loan debt but that that debt is taking more of a bite out of a family’s pocketbook than ever before.

In 2004, 57 percent of college students in New Jersey graduated with some college debt. In 2012, the latest year for which figures are available, that number has jumped to 65 percent.

A college grad today can expect to owe over $29,000. That’s a 66 percent jump in less than a decade.

In 2000, college debt took up 10 percent of a family’s budget; in 2012 that number was up to 17 percent.

Today, a small group of students and activists on campus at Rutgers Newark marked the two years since the national college loan debt hit $1 trillion. They say the state has been steadily disinvesting in higher education to the detriment of its college students.

“By the state disinvesting, I mean that the actual appropriations for higher education has gone down, and it’s actually arbitrary right now,” said Giancarlo Tello, an organizer with New Jersey Working Families. “There’s no mandatory funding for higher education right now. Each school actually has to fight with the state legislature and lobby on their own to get any sort of money. There’s no uniformity and without colleges knowing how much they’re going to get, they have to keep increasing tuitions.”

The idea that a college education can leave you with tens of thousands of debt is a hard lesson most of the students here say they never saw on any syllabus.

“I was just like I’m gonna go to school and then I’m going to get my degree and I’m going to be out,” said Rutgers Newark student Syeda Rehman, “but then you have to think about everything else. You have to think about the money matters.”

President Obama says he supports efforts to cap interest rates on student loans at 3.8 percent. “We cannot afford to price middle class and folks who aspire to be middle class. We can’t price them out of the college education market,” he said recently.

But those efforts are likely to face tough opposition in the House, meaning that the cost of going to school — and the cost of paying for it after — is likely to continue to go up.