CAREERS AND ED ISSUE: As college costs rise, postsecondary students are getting crushed by debt -- and falling further behind
"Because students with lower incomes are more dependent on student loans than higher income students, students who already face significant challenges to attending college will more strongly feel the effect of loan debt on career choice," the report points out.
"It's a serious problem for so many young people to be starting out their working life so deep in debt," said Edie Irons, spokesperson for The Institute on College Access and Success (TICAS), an Oakland-based research organization. "It really does limit people's ability to take advantage of the opportunities education is supposed to provide. In concrete terms, it can make it really hard to buy a house, or start a business, or start a family, or go back to grad school, or to save for retirement or your own children's education. And that's all assuming you can keep up with the payments."
Student loan debt has intensified over the past two decades. In 1993, just one third of all four-year college students graduated with debt, owing on average slightly more than $9,000, according to PIRG.
Today, the majority of college students take out loans to finance their education. Around 62 percent of public university students graduate with student loans, as do 72 percent of students attending private nonprofit institutions, and 96 percent of students attending for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix or the Academy of Art University, according to TICAS. Nationally, students graduate owing an average of $24,000, not counting debt associated with advanced degrees.
While young people must invest more than ever before to obtain higher education, the return on investment isn't showing signs of improvement. The expected median income for UC graduates has stayed the same over the last decade, even as the cost of tuition has ballooned.
What's more, says Bob Meister, president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations and professor of Political and Social Thought at UC Santa Cruz, is that an estimated 40 percent of public university students entering the workforce will either be unable to find a job, or will land in a lower-paying job that doesn't require a college degree.
"For college graduates under 25, the unemployment rate is nearly as high as the national unemployment rate," around 10 percent, Meister notes. "Over the past decade, what's happened is that the median hasn't risen. The top has risen very fast, and the bottom has fallen."
IN A DIFFERENT CLASS
There's no doubt that diminished state funding is affecting California's public universities.
"A lot of departments are being eliminated, and a lot of professors who are really amazing are leaving to other universities," Magana says. "And the waiting lists for classes are just ridiculous." Academic goals are being compromised — for example, students had to abandon their push for an ethnic studies program at UCSC, she added, because the American studies department that would have partially supported it was slashed.
While diminished public funding has been used to explain the need to raise tuition, Meister has published numerous essays suggesting that the root cause of rising tuition costs at UC goes deeper than that, and he has gone so far as to publicly encourage students not to accept higher tuition without first demanding financial information.