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RI EDUCATION

R.I. students feel the burden of borrowing to pay for college

Student loan debt relief would make a difference, they say -- but $50,000 may not be enough

A campus scene of the University of Rhode Island, in South Kingstown, R.I., Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
A campus scene of the University of Rhode Island, in South Kingstown, R.I., Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)Steven Senne/Associated Press

KINGSTON, R.I. — For many young adults, student loans are a stressful step in their college journey. With thousands of dollars worth of loan debt looming, it makes finding a high-paying job after graduation more imperative, and the need for loan relief from the federal government more important to this generation than ever.

“Loans are such a hot button issue because it (affects) the future of this generation and the generation to come,” said Eli Poirer of Charlestown, a sophomore psychology major at the University of Rhode Island. “Students are deciding where to attend and what major to pick based off the length of time in school, post-degree salary, and [because] tuition has continuously increased.”

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Poirer, 20, who previously attended the Community College of Rhode Island under the Rhode Island Promise program (which grants free tuition for two years to new high school graduates) is trying to avoid having to apply for student loans at all. Having to borrow money for school is “very stressful” for him and his family, he said, and though he aspires to earn a doctorate in psychology,  he is reconsidering his college and career plans because of the possibility of having debt to deal with.

“I am also considering not attending one of my top schools due to the tuition rate and the amount of loans I would have,” Poirer said.

The Biden administration has floated the idea of forgiving student loan debts.  During his presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden supported relieving students of $10,000 worth of debt. But recently congressional Democrats and other prominent Democratic officials have pushed the president to forgive as much as $50,000 in loan debt per student borrower, and Biden has asked Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to look into it.

Olivia Johnson of Exeter, a sophomore sociology and political science double major at URI, agrees with the idea of cancelling student loan debt but does not think $50,000 is enough in the long run.

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“I think it’s definitely a good start considering the amount of student loan debt in the country, but so many students pay so much more than that just for one year of college that it’s not enough overall,” said Johnson.

As of 2020, there are approximately 45 million student loan borrowers in the United States alone, according to Forbes. All together, these borrowers owe just over $1.5 trillion, which makes student loan debt the second-largest consumer debt in the country.

Currently, the loan repayment terms vary between lenders. Payments can begin while students are still in school, or after graduation. Johnson, 19,  said her family has been making $500 payments on her private loans each month.

“I attended the University of Connecticut for my freshman year of college, which was $54,000 per year, so I took out that much in student loans, both federal and private,” she said. “The pandemic prevented me from taking out any more student loans, which resulted in my transfer to URI. I now have over $60,000 in student loan debt constantly looming over me after only two years in college.”

Anthony Vargas, 20, a junior computer information systems major at Rhode Island College, feels confident that he will be able to pay back his loans after graduation.

“I have been keeping a savings account with money in order to reduce the amount of debt that I will leave with,” said Vargas, who is from Cranston.

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If loan debt is not cancelled, some college students in Rhode Island say they believe major reforms in the education system need to take place in order to make college possible and affordable for more individuals.

“College needs to be more affordable for people who choose a degree-based job [as] opposed to a trade job,” said Poirer.