Student debt reaches $1 trillion nationwide, students alarmed for their future

By Alexandra Chavez

April 16, 2014

Like millions of Americans who struggle daily to pay off their homes, cars and other expenses, college students and graduates have found themselves in a dark place of their own, saddled with rising student loan debt.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, college student loan debt now tops $1 trillion. Roughly $864 billion of debts come from outstanding federal student loan debts, while the remaining $150 billion is in private student loans.

The student debt crisis has hit close to home for many Dominican graduates, including Vivianna Reyes and Nancy Reyes who have both had to put their post-graduation plans on hold.

Vivianna Reyes, a fall 2013 graduate, is only able to afford her payments with the help of her father. Reyes hopes to eventually receive a master’s degree, but only after she finally pays off her loans. Reyes says the very thought of collecting more debt is terrifying and that her other plans have been scratched due to her crippling debt.

“I also wanted to buy a new car, but the payments are like new car payments, so that has to wait unfortunately,” Reyes said.

Nancy Reyes, a spring 2013 graduate, is the only source of income for her family and juggles two jobs to keep up with her debt. After her loan payments exceeded her budget, her plans to travel and provide stability for herself and her home have come to a halt.

“I wish I had more money for myself instead of bills, but I know this is temporary and I just have to keep going,” she said.

Current students at Dominican are also struggling financially and fear the dreaded burden of repaying their massive loans.

From the 1,995 Dominican undergraduates of the 2012-2013 school year, 1,418 of them received Federal Direct Stafford student loans.

Senior Krystal Hammond says she is not looking forward to repaying over $60,000 debt after her six-month repayment grace period comes to an end. She has been working diligently throughout the semester in hopes of getting promoted at her job in order to be able to afford her future loan payments, which will amount to about $500 per month.

“It’s been so stressful,” Hammond explained. “I have literally coughed up blood, vomited, fainted from exhaustion and have become delirious from lack of sleep to make it this far.”

Junior Marilyn Vasquez has already begun making interest payments on her loans to keep the principal from rising. She wakes up early each morning to prepare her meals throughout the day to avoid spending money on food. Budgeting for the future has become an everyday routine for Vasquez, where even buying new school supplies can be a daunting thought.

“I can’t go out or shop for clothes. I can’t even afford to buy myself new notebooks,” Vasquez said.

Debt is a fact of life for many Dominican students, but as bad as it can be for them, the national average is worse.

According to Marie von Ebers, director of Financial Aid, a typical Dominican undergraduate student will on average graduate with $20,668 in Federal Direct Stafford Student Loan debt, which is $8,732 less than the national average of $29,400.

Dominican’s financial aid office is aware of the problem of looming graduation debt and tries to help as much as they can.

“You hear and read about a lot of scary stories about students with massive amounts of student loan debt,” von Ebers said. “At Dominican, we work very hard to keep student loan debt as low as possible. Taking out and successfully paying off your student loans helps a student establish good credit, which helps when they are looking to buy a car or their first home.  If you are afraid, come talk to us, that’s what we are here for.”

As scary as loan re-payment sounds, Dominican students have faith in their future and plan to tackle these loans at whatever the cost may be.

“You can only attack them like anything else in life,” James Johnson, a fall 2013 graduate said. “I’m definitely not going to let them hold me back.”