Student debt overwhelms
History senior Johnathan Richards, like many other students, took out governmental student loans to help pay for his education — his student debt totals somewhere on the order of $60,000, he said.
When he graduated high school, he tried to apply for scholarships, but an error on his Free Application For Student Aid form forced him to miss the deadline and take out loans to pay for school.
“I took all AP classes, my GPA in high school was a 3.74 and I had decent scores on my SAT, so I was hoping to get some sort of scholarship,” Richards said. “After that first semester, my GPA wasn’t that good, so I was never able to get scholarships after that.”
UH Director of Media Relations Shawn Lindsey said that in the 2011-2012 school year, 20,783 students at UH took out loans totaling $158.4 million — an average of a little more than $7,620 per student — using the Federal Stafford Loan program.
According to U.S. News & World Report, 44 percent of 2010 UH graduates had taken out loans, graduating with an average of $14,922 in debt, compared to 46.7 percent and $22,243 at Texas A&M and 51 percent and $24,667 at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Some of (my loans) are Stafford loans from the government. What the Stafford doesn’t cover, I usually have to get through private loans, and for those I usually go through Sallie Mae,” Richards said. “If grad school requires me to take out more loans, it may go up as far as $200,000, but I don’t think I would even attend grad school if I had to get loans, because I’m already pretty much in the hole for undergrad.”
There are some benefits to having some debt in school. According to Richards, if students stay on top of their payments, they can graduate with good credit.
“There’s also a sense of pride in being able to pay for your school on your own,” Richards said. “I’ve got bills in my name, and they’re hefty bills, but there’s this sense of pride that eventually I will have paid for school on my own.”
“This is too big an investment for me to pass up. It was take out loans and go to school, or don’t go to school at all.”
According to Richards there are downsides though, aside from merely having debt.
“Just simply the numbers — it’s so daunting and so overwhelming that at times you can kind of get yourself in a rut, like, ‘How in the world am I going to pay all these bills?’” he said. “It can also be difficult tackling financial aid to get them to disperse your funds, and if you’re starting your first loans or they have to be large, you may need a cosigner, which I know for some people is hard to obtain.”
Richards says his plan is just to graduate and find a job before he attempts grad school.
“A lot of these students are going to graduate, and they’re not going to have jobs. Six months later, the loan company — depending on who you go through — is going to want payments regardless of whether you have a job or not,” Richards said. “They’re going to get their money one way or another, and that’s kind of a scary thought.”