Drowning in debt: A student loan crisis

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Whether your kids have already graduated or your little ones are still in preschool, many Americans recognize the cost of going to college is steep.

Ninety percent of parents want their kids to get a higher education, but only about 40-percent save for it, says David Lesesne, Dean of Admission at Randolph-Macon College.

In Virginia, the average college student graduates about $26,000 in debt. Paying for higher education is now so expensive, it is considered a crisis.

Right now, college graduates are saddled with more than $1.3 trillion dollars in student loan debt. That is nearly double the credit card debt in our country. It also tops the amount all Americans own on their mortgages.

“They say there’s the American dream,” laments Joseph Jadallah. “I don’t think the American dream exists anymore.”

Three years after graduating from VCU Pharmacy School, he owes more than $250,000 in student loans.

Last year, Jadallah paid $16,000 in interest on that debt. While the Chesterfield man earns good money as a pharmacist, he still struggles to pay the bills.

“if you really do the math and look at how much you make, how much the government takes, how much the state takes, and you know between all of the bills that you get, really there’s nothing left on your paycheck,” he explained.

“We’re sending our graduates out into the world saddled with a house payment and that’s a tough way to start,” added VCU Professor Benjamin Van Tassell.

Professor Van Tassell says part of the problem is that students simply aren’t prepared to handle the debt. So a few years ago, he started teaching a class that encourages students to create a budget and embrace a financially lean lifestyle for the first few years after they graduate.

“Live like a student, you know? Hold off on all those big purchases,” he added. “Live like a student while you’re getting a real income. You can actually pay off your debts really quickly with that kind of a plan.”

Lesne agrees.

“I think a lot of times students, they’re about 15 minutes ahead of themselves,” he said. “Alright, so if I sign this, I can go to college? You know, they should step back and say alright, well if I’m borrowing this much for the first year, what’s that going to be in four years.”

Lesesne says students need to do the math before they enroll and then make the most of their time on campus afterward.

“To maximize that experience so they do get that job when they graduate. So they can start paying off on that student loan,” he explained.

But even with a great job, Joseph Jadallah will be stuck under a mountain of student loan bills for years. So, he has started a petition that asks congress to cap the interest rates on student loans. Some of his are at a painful 8 percent.

“This affects not Richmond, not Virginia, this affects the whole United States,” Jadallah said. “So it’s not just something I’m trying just for me, it’s for everybody.”

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