The Pluck Student Debt Resource Guide
When Pluck was just getting started, part of our goal was to offer solutions as often as we offered dilemmas. Yes, our generation was frequently sinking in debt, underemployed or out of work altogether, deferring dreams and shirking milestones. Yet, we wanted to show that there were still ways forward- whether you were a waitress, a socialist organizer, or a band member on tour.
For the past three weeks of our Student Debt Series, we've analyzed, discussed, and shared our debt dilemmas. Together, we've tried to understand how an entire educational industry has risen in the name of profit, and how a maze of student loan options aren't always enough to help students pay for their studies.
Now, it's time for us to present solutions. Below, you will find our Student Debt Resource Guide, a compendium of information we hope will serve you as you work towards paying down your own debt.
Start with ten tips on taking action to change the loan system, so that your own voice doesn't go unheard. Read on for a wider perspective, with an overview of how the rest of the world approaches paying for higher education. Last, determine your own next steps through our guide to careers that forgive student loan debt.
We know this issue is often an uncomfortable and unwelcome one. It's our hope, though, that this debt series has played a small part in raising awareness and offering solutions.
We've all faced the specter of paying for our education. By staying educated, aware, and informed, we can help fight the fear and access the educations we deserve.
Change The System
- Push for federal congressional action on regulating issues connected to higher education and student loans, such as:
- Educational institutions being held to stricter criteria for federal loan eligibility.
- Ensuring that the advertised program delivers the training necessary to literally obtain a job at the advertised pay scale.
- Prohibit and enforce regulations against predatory lending.
- Analyze student loan default rates on periods exceeding 2 years.
- Increase spending on Pell Grants and funding of community college and vocational programs
- Increase the maximum amount given in Pell Grants to adequately finance most or all of tuition costs in 2012.
- Urge Congress to pass legislation such as the Fast Track to College Act of 2011, which would authorize the Secretary of Education to make grants to support early college high schools and other dual enrollment programs. This would cut down on the amount of money students need to take out to attend a four-year college program.
- Ensure that Congress passes the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act in 2012 (when it is set to expire), which seeks to fund vocational programs that provide technical training separately.
- Requiring that universities put key pieces of data about student outcomes and cost on websites, enrollment forms, and other places where students are likely to see them to protect students by informing them of the risks inherent in their choices. Theoretically this information is out there, but requires that you a) know what you are looking for b) know where to find it.
- Start paying down your debt through volunteering your time in your community, through organizations like Sponsor Change.
- Brainstorm and d evelop hard skills such as graphic design, computer literacy, and reading, writing, and editing skills. Advertise accordingly.
- Educate yourself on l oan forgiveness p rograms like:
- Military Service Higher Education Programs
- Volunteering and community service through federal programs, including enrolling in Public Service Loan Forgiveness, AmeriC orps, and Corporation for National and Community Service
- Pressure your own state legislators to prioritize public university budgets during these trying economic times
- Contact your legislators directly.
- Students should be far more involved in local elections so that they can be an organized voting block that mandates certain rules and regulations that will affect them directly.
- If you are still paying off student loans from college (or even if you’re not and have to pay for your graduate school loans), truly reassess and educate yourself on what the unemployment opportunities and pay scale will be when you graduate. Many of the commonly used services that “monitor” this information are very limited in scope and do not provide realistic information for the average graduate.
- Become familiar with existing informational sites such as:
- College Navigator – which allows students to do side-by-side comparisons of institutions on a variety of different factors, including tuition, average financial aid, and student loan default rates. Not only are people not aware of the site’s existence, but the site itself is crowded and hard to use, making it a deterrent to those that would benefit most from it.
- FinAid – a privately run site that is a great resource for anything and everything connected to student loans, debt, repayment, forgiveness, bankruptcy, and beyond.
- Increase student participation in administrative discussions on campus that affect tuition and curriculum decisions.
- Students are often not part of the conversations amongst policymakers, philanthropic foundations, and nonprofit organizations.
- Students really don’t have a high degree of federal/state organization to counterbalance the lobbying witnessed by for-profits and even some non-profit school consortiums.
- The Center for American Progress recommends that Congress and DOE should ensure significant student representation on committees and panels such as the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education board by including at least two student members, one of whom is elected by a national body that represents student governments, such as the American Student Government Association, and one who has demonstrated experience in dealing the particular policy issues the committee will discuss.
- Students should work with outside agencies to help maintain a degree of professionalism and consistency in student representation within higher education discussions.
- Without a full understanding of how universities make their decision, students cannot exert any influence over the ultimate choices colleges make.
- In Wisconsin, they have the United Council that started in the 1970s as a way for students to have a role in the governance of Wisconsin universities – this provision was added to the WI code. This could be a model for other states.
- If you can, make payments towards your most expensive loan.
- VOTE! Students will continue not to be a demographic that politicians cater to without becoming a valuable political constituency.
Look Outside Your Borders
We've spent much of our debt series rightly focused on the big business that is student loans in America. Yet there is a wider world of education out there, and paying for that degree is sometimes as complicated elsewhere as it can be here in the States. Nonetheless, having an idea of what our fellow students face overseas can give us a greater understanding of how to tackle the issues closer to home. Take a look below for a quick glance at the debt outlook abroad:
Data Source: The International Comparative Higher Education and Finance Project, University of Buffalo Graduate School of Education
Original Map Source: Wikimedia Commons user Roke
Pay Down The Debt
Choose the right career, and the government could waive all your student debt. By working in certain industries or occupations, individuals who have taken out loans can actually qualify for programs that forgive their federal debt entirely or grant credits that can be used towards paying off student loans. In some cases, private-sector employers will have their own programs that contribute to an individual’s monthly payments for student loans or pay for their graduate school entirely.
Here are a few options:
- Join AmeriCorps - Individuals who sign up for AmeriCorps must commit to one - year of full-time service and in exchange they will receive a small living stipend and at the end of the year a $5,550 education award that can be used towards paying off student loans or future education programs.
- Join the Peace Corps - With the Peace Corps, volunteers who sign up for a two-year commitment to work in a foreign country become eligible for federal loan programs that defer their loan payments during service. Volunteers with Perkins loans can qualify for a partial cancellation depending on how many years they serve with the Corps. One year of service gets 15% of the loan knocked off, while four years can net 70% forgiveness.
- Become a teacher - Several government programs offer teachers credits that can be used to pay off student loans. Under the Teach Grant, part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, teachers who sign up for a four-year commitment to work in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves low-income students can earn up to $4,000 in grants each year towards paying off their student loans. Be aware that teachers who do not complete their full four-year commitment will have to repay the grants they earned, adding to their overall debts.
Other teaching options include Teach for America, which sends recent college graduates to work in under-privileged schools for two years. In addition to a salary and benefits, Teach for America offers an education award of $5,350 for each year of service as well as postponements of loan repayments during their two-years of teaching.
- Become a public servant - Under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, individuals who become public servants and continue to make payments on their loans for ten years can have the remaining balance excused entirely. Occupations that are eligible include nurses, non-profit employees, and individuals working for a local, state, or federal agency (head over here to see a more detailed list of the jobs that qualify).
- Join the military - Each branch of the military offers programs to help service members pay off their debts. For instance with the Army’s Loan Repayment Program, soldiers can earn more than $1, 500 annually for each year of active duty up to $65,000 to be used towards paying off the remainder of their student loans.
- Ask your employer - Before quitting your job and taking out expensive loans for graduate school check with your employer to see if they are willing to help pay for your tuition. Many large firms like KPMG and IBM offer to cover the entire cost of tuition for promising employees.
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