In Too Deep

For some students, good grades aren’t enough to keep them in college. For some students, it’s just as tough finding a way to pay for it. The rising cost of a college education has serious, immediate implications for students paying their own way through — students who are doing everything to keep from falling 

 

Photo Illustration by Dylan Huebner


Tony Rusch hopes to get into law school after he graduates in spring 2013. That has always been his plan. He can’t afford to try an unpaid internship, a “year off,” or a service project, because with Rusch’s diploma comes the burden of student debt. The payments begin, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 per month, until, as Rusch said, “Oh God … A really long time.”

But he is quick to note that he is not a sob story, or one in 8,000. He is just, “one of the many students who have to deal with this: paying their own way through college.”

Rusch is the middle of three children, all in college at the same time. And as many American families would agree, college for three students at one time is an expensive venture.

“I have always been grateful of my parents support. They cover the expenses they can and they always have supported me, but when it came to college, me and my siblings just had to help out a little,” Rusch said.

And after all, it’s America: where we work hard to pay for things, we work hard for the expected reward. However, as Rusch and other students pointed out, higher education is reaching a danger point.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of college education increases at twice the rate of inflation. Similarly, the average cost of education at private institutions increases faster than the rate at which it costs for public institutions to educate students.

Rusch agrees that increasing amounts of student debt in the country points to a larger problem.

“The biggest problem is that we don’t have any foreseeable solution for it,” Rusch said. “The large-scale system we have set up and created for higher education is convoluted and complex, I am not sure how anyone would fix it.”

Rusch added that higher education in the United States is “most definitely” overpriced.

 

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Education’s soaring price in the U.S. has become a hot topic in political discussion in the last few years. Legislation usually can’t change the price universities charge, but it can adjust loans’ stipulations. During the Obama administration, new legislation has gone into effect to lower monthly payments and shorten durations for paying back student loans. The new legislation, however, only affects students borrowing from the government and not those who take out private loans. Even this year’s “Occupy” protest has student debt issues on the forefront of its agenda.

Former Marquette student Matt Reidenbach points the finger at government and politicians for not working hard enough to solve issues involving student debt.

“There are a lot of unintended consequences with the government’s involvement in education and student loans,” Reidenbach said. “If you are in the middle class, you are not poor enough to get scholarships and not rich enough to pay for college. The middle class is really being muscled out, and that’s not good.”

Reidenbach attended Marquette from fall 2010 until fall 2011.

“I knew Marquette was expensive when I decided to go there senior year (of high school), I knew I was paying for pretty much all of it, but I didn’t make a decision based on cost,” Reidenbach said. “When I looked at all the places I applied, Marquette was the most personal and it seemed they put a priority on critical thinking. I chose the place that I thought would give me the best education.”

But the burden of student loans set in, and after fall 2011, Reidenbach moved back home. He is taking classes at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater until he starts at University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall.

“I really started crunching the numbers and in terms of value, I don’t think Marquette was giving me the best value,” Reidenbach said. “It’s a good education, it’s a good school, but so is a state school like Wisconsin (Madison).”

And similar to Rusch, Reidenbach said the increasing amounts of student debt nationwide is a problem that needs to be fixed.

“Year by year, it is getting more expensive and I just felt like when I left Marquette, I was being muscled out by the higher education system,” Reidenbach said.

“My parents made enough money where I got almost no money for going to school, but they aren’t making enough to just pay for it all up front. And I wouldn’t expect a lot of parents could pay for it up front.”

So now, Reidenbach lives at home and works two jobs — one full-time to pay off student loans.

“It’s hard but I’m not complaining,” Reidenbach said, “and when students talk about this stuff, they aren’t complaining, they are talking about a national concern that needs to be addressed.”

Liz Stone, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, echoed a similar sentiment, saying that increasing amounts of student debt are a national problem.

“It’s a huge problem and more and more every year, education is becoming just more for wealthy individuals, and is not an equal opportunity anymore,” Stone said.

Stone, who is an education major, said when she thinks about the principles behind an education, our higher education system is a broken one.

“It’s unfortunate because of skyrocketing costs that if you have the desire to further your education and grow, you may not be able to, because it is too expensive,” Stone said. “It’s becoming harder to grow.”

Much like Reidenbach and Rusch, Stone is paying her own way through Marquette, as the primary signee on all her student loans.

“To be honest, it’s hard to answer if my college decision has been worth it financially, when I think about how expensive it has been,” Stone said. “I have had fun here though, I have gotten a great education and I have made great friends. I definitely don’t regret it.”

However, Stone did say that students who rely on money from loans may have some added day-to-day stress they may not normally have to deal with.

“It definitely affects my schoolwork,” Stone said. “There was one point where I had a realization that I have to make my time here worth it, and I have to be able to get good grades and graduate in four years. My loans sort of motivated me to find that healthy balance.”

Christine Bradford, a junior in the College of Education, is paying her way through Marquette with student loans. She agreed with Stone, saying paying off loans after college is always in the back of her mind, and hard to ignore.

“It’s just a burden that is always on my mind, and I work all the time, but that money I make from working is only a dent,” Bradford said, “a small dent.”

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“Some kids, at every school, in every state don’t realize how lucky they are to be getting a college education,” Rusch said. “And sometimes when you don’t have to take out those loans and don’t have to worry about debt, it’s easy to forget about that stuff.”

But Rusch wasn’t complaining.

“That’s one thing that’s good about all these loans,” Rusch said. “I am learning to manage money, I am learning how important my education is, and I am just making the best of it.”