Forum

Increasing college debts should motivate students to make most of expensive education

Credit: Courtney Wittekind/Contributing Editor and Christa Hester/Forum Co-Editors Credit: Courtney Wittekind/Contributing Editor and Christa Hester/Forum Co-Editors

In less than a month, this year’s graduates will leave Carnegie Mellon’s campus, diplomas in hand. For more and more students, that diploma comes with a heavy burden of student debt. Last year, for the first time in history, the nation’s student debt surpassed credit card debt, breaking the $3 trillion mark.

According to recent U.S. Department of Education data, the average price of attending a private, nonprofit institution outstrips available financial aid by more than $26,000 — a statistic that offers a clear explanation for the increase in students relying on loans for higher education. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, graduates who took out loans left college with an average of $24,000 in debt last year. Many may see student debt as a necessary means to a successful future career. Because, as Peter Thiel suggests, student debt could very well become the next debt crisis, students need to weigh the benefits of attending a top-ranked school against the costs of amassed student loans. This decision of whether or not to take out a loan, however, is hard to judge when every major university — Carnegie Mellon included — is working harder each year to convince each year’s prospective students that a high-quality education is worth the cost.

At the moment, it looks as if the earning potential of college graduates is, in fact, enough to cover the average student debt. According to a College Board report issued last fall, median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients working full time year-round in 2008 were $55,700, or $21,900 more than the median earnings of high school graduates. For Carnegie Mellon, the median for a mechanical engineering major graduating with a bachelor’s degree is $90,000 yearly, while the median for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in H&SS is $65,000, which are both well above the overall college median.

Either way, Carnegie Mellon students who are taking out loans and college students in general need to be aware of the time and money they are investing in their education. Students need to become fiscally aware during and especially after college, when they may need to forgo certain luxuries until their debts are paid off. Students can become fiscally aware by managing their money through free sites like Mint.com and by monitoring their student account and loans on Student Information Online. Getting a job in college to pay down the interest on student loans is also a good way to ensure that debt is not overwhelming after graduation. All these tactics can aid students in keeping debt under control and getting the most out of college.

When one really evaluates the reason for attending college, it’s about preparing for a job and about gaining the knowledge to carry out a profession. Carnegie Mellon students in particular go to college with the motivation and intention of making a successful career in their chosen profession. When we graduate from this university, it will be with a wealth of knowledge that will allow us to succeed in future jobs and pay off pesky student debts.