Be aware of debt’s effect

From the time students are old enough to understand what higher education is, they’re told it’s something they have to pursue. It’s almost socially unacceptable not to have a plan for life after high school and it’s even more taboo if that plan doesn’t include continuing education. It’s presented as the only option if students want to eventually achieve some level of success in the career they choose. The problem is, a college education isn’t free and, unless they’re fortunate enough to have some sort of college fund, the onus of paying for it usually falls on the student themselves. Only five states require high school students to take a course in personal finance to graduate, according to a study conducted by the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College. Wisconsin is not one of them. This failure to ensure students are financially literate by the end of their secondary education, paired with an increased reliance on student loans to pay for college, means there are high schoolers borrowing money to pay for an education with little to no understanding of what it even means to be in debt. Fifty four percent of UW Oshkosh undergraduates use loans to help pay for schooling, and in 2014 the average student-loan debt of UWO graduates was $31,601, according to the UW System Informational Memoranda. Add in credit card debt which, as of 2013, was measured to be around $3,000 per student nationally. Many UWO students leave campus with a debt tag that equals the starting salary of their first job. UWO economics professor Chad Cotti said student debt is a balancing act. Cotti also said a good rule of thumb is a student’s total debt at graduation should not exceed what they realistically expect their starting salary to be in their first job after finishing their college education. “College is investment in oneself,” Cotti said. “So, for students like me, who couldn’t afford to fully commit to college without financial aid, I was more than willing to borrow money when I was young, so I could graduate from college and have a significantly higher income and quality of life than I would have had otherwise.” An obvious option for students who want to avoid debt is paying for school out of pocket and in 2013, 85 percent of college graduates used personal funds to pay for some or all of their tuition and fees, according to CNN. But Cotti said students who work too much may end up costing themselves money in the long run. “All too often, students choose to work full-time or nearly full-time so they can graduate with zero or near zero debt,” Cotti said. “However, in doing so they prolong their time in college, which is extremely expensive in terms of foregone wages and it compromises their GPA which will impact their marketability after college.” Making sure to fully understand the details of and all debt they’re undertaking isn’t just essential to every student’s long-term economic success, it’s necessary for post-college survival. Students should be certain they understand their master promissory note, which includes all the information on their loan’s interest rates, grace periods and what happens if they were to go into default.