Nationwide, almost 70 percent of students who attended four-year public and non-profit colleges in 2014 graduated with an average of $29,000 in student loan debt, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. In comparison, students at William Paterson University that year graduated with an average just over $25,000; more than 75 percent of the university’s graduates carry student loans, according to TICAS.
Last month, WPU President Kathleen Waldron and members of her administration held public hearings to explain and answer questions about the proposed university budget for 2016-2017. At one of these hearings, a number of students spoke about the impact the cost of college has on their lives. Here are some of their stories.
$16,000 In Debt, And Counting
By Giselle Rubio
Kevin Vega owes $16,307.16 in college loans.
With one year left at William Paterson University, and possibly graduate school ahead of him, that number is only going to grow.
Beginning at 16, Vega, now 21, has supported himself. He works three jobs and still manages to go to school full-time, but it can get expensive. His parents have enough expenses on their hands. Vega refuses to accept help from them partly because his brother, who has Down syndrome, is already a large family expense, he said.
A history and education major, Vega aspires to be a college professor someday, but he is unsure of what will happen after he graduates.
“With the teacher shortage, I can have my four years of college and go to graduate school, and still end up without a job,” said Vega.
What is certain is that Vega will finish college with student debt that will need to be repaid.
Vega, accompanied by other students, joined the Million Student March to help protest against high tuition fees.
“This is our university, this is our money, this is our future but it is in the hands of greed and corporation,” said Vega at the meeting.
This was an opportunity for students to express their concerns and issues with the school.
“I am a human being, but to the government and the school I am just the $16,307.16 that I owe back,” he said.
No End In Sight For Student Debt
By Gabriela Salvador
Twenty-two thousand dollars.
And he hasn’t even graduated yet.
Antonio Iannetta, a communication major studying journalism, was one of several students who spoke at a tuition hearing on campus last month, where he discussed the struggles he and his family face in covering the costs of his college education.
“I have a family situation which causes money to be tight,” said Iannetta, “and my younger brother and sister will be going to college soon.”
In addition, Iannetta’s mother is unemployed.
Iannetta’s difficulties in paying his tuition are compounded by concerns that his postgraduate career will fail to bring in the revenue necessary for him to pay off his loans. He faces an industry that continues to shed employees at newspapers, but is hiring in online or digital newsrooms.
“If I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in the future, how will I know how I will pay off my debt from being a communication major?” Iannetta asked. “I am constantly worrying that I’ll be thousands of dollars in debt and that my degree and what I’ve worked for will go to waste.”
At the hearing, Iannetta also shared his concerns about what he needs to best prepare him for a successful career, such as internships.
“Internships are especially important in the communication field; if you don’t have an ‘in,’ you’re likely not to get into the field,” said Iannetta. “But I am entirely unsure about what I need to do before I graduate in terms of internships.”
As a result of his family situation and uncertainty about how his journalism degree will pay off, Iannetta is unsure of how he will pay off his student debt.
“Oh God, I honestly don’t know,” said Iannetta. “I typically use my entire paycheck by my next paycheck. I’m unable to save up.”
Two Jobs, A Family Illness And College Debt
By Edita Diunov
At just 18, Hileri Patel, a freshmen biology major at William Paterson University, is currently $10,000 in debt and predicts that by the completion of her bachelor’s degree it will have increased to $42,000.
“I grew up in India where I saw people die because of health issues. I want to provide healthcare for those who cannot afford it,” Patel said. Her dream is to become a physician’s assistant.
She currently works two jobs as a lab assistant and saleswoman; both pay minimum wage, which causes her to struggle academically and emotionally. With the money she earns, she covers her debts and helps her family; both her parents have low-income jobs, she said.
Moreover, Patel’s brother has cancer and her parents cannot help her pay tuition as what money they have goes there.
“Working two jobs and helping my family is stressful,” she said. “I’m emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. I’m failing my major’s classes. I don’t have time to rest and I find myself skipping classes in order to study.”
She applied for scholarships and reached out to many organizations to help her with tuition with no success, she said.
“Currently, there is no helping hand from anyone,” she said, “This student debt issue is a national problem…Don’t let this overwhelm you and don’t work at jobs you hate; keep strong and follow your dreams.”
Working Overtime to Avoid Loans
By Caitlin Sawicki
A typical day for Urvi Patel includes classes on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. During common hour, she spends most of her time doing schoolwork, but also tries to spend time with her friends.
“My parents take all the overtime they can get [at their jobs],” Patel said, who is a freshman majoring in psychology. “They’re barely holding on by a thread.”
She added that focusing on her studies is hard knowing that her parents are struggling to make ends meet and won’t take out loans to help pay for the cost of her degree. Patel did not receive any scholarships for the 2015-2016 academic year.
She was one of the many students who attended the tuition meeting held last month in the Science Building; while there, she spoke about her situation.
When asked if she was going to be in debt after graduation, she replied, “Definitely.”
Patel believes that a solution to student debt could be to customize tuition fees for families, depending on household situations such as income and family size.
Patel hopes to find a job in order to help her parents pay for her school.
No Debt, But Plenty of Concern
By Sarah Smith
Mohammad Marey, executive vice president of the Student Government Association at William Paterson University, will be graduating in May with no student debt. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t empathize with New Jersey students who are facing an average $28,000 debt after graduation.
As a representative of the student body, Marey has seen first hand how tuition is a burden on students. Tuition costs were a factor for him when he was deciding on where to go to college.
Marey had his heart set on attending Seton Hall University, but after his father saw the cost, his family had to convince him to apply elsewhere, he said. Marey chose WPU after seeing the lower tuition, being offered scholarships and getting accepted to the honors program.
Marey is one of the luckier students in terms of graduating without debt. However, if it weren’t for the support he receives from his extended family, he said, he might be struggling like many of his peers.
“If it were my nuclear family alone then I would have to get a job and probably have loans,” he said.
Last month the history major attended a Board of Trustees tuition hearing to support his peers and speak about the affects high tuition has on the student body.
“I wanted to do whatever I can to alleviate that [burden],” said Marey. “Just because I can [graduate without debt] doesn’t mean it’s not a problem; its something that we need to fix.”