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Tenn Words: The Overwhelming Burden Of College Debt


From gobbling down Ramen to pulling all-nighters, college students are used to making sacrifices.

But one sacrifice seems to loom larger than all of the others combined. Across the country, students are crippled by debt after completing their degrees, and East Tennessee students, graduates and the family members supporting them are not immune.

Aren’t convinced? Well, the numbers don’t lie:

In the past 10 years in the U.S., students have earned more bachelor’s degree than ever with 16.9 million awarded. To go along with those degrees, the Federal Reserve estimates the nation now carries over $1.2 trillion in student debt. In our state of Tennesee alone, 60 percent have student loans, with an average of $25,510 owed.

Over the last year, WUOT’s Tenn Words project has been asking you “What keeps you up at night?” With more than half of the state’s college students, alumni and their families borrowing money for school, is it any surprise that college debt is near the top of your mind?   

'Student loan debt (6 figures!)' -32 year-old male, Knoxville
'Finances (student loan debt) and my professional future'- 32 year-old female, Knoxville

There are concerns about the long term effects this kind of debt will have. Publications like the Boston Globe, and the International Business Times have suggested student debt can be linked to postponing major life events. In an interesting poll that Gallup conducted Millenials and Gen Xers are engaging in what they call “cost-cutting” or “income generating actions” versus older Americans.

Mellenials are more likely than any other demographic group to put off marriage (18 percent), put off having kids (24 percent), put off furthering their education (34 percent) and have moved in with parents or relativese (one in five have done it).  Could that have anything to do with the enormous debt they're carrying from their college education?  

The cost of tuition also presents a heavy burden for the parents trying to help their kids get through college: 

'Single mom putting her daughter through college'- 28 year-old female, Knoxville
'Getting children into a good college how to pay for it'- 47 year-old female, Maryville

You may not be old enough for college.  But it's never to early to start stressing about it:

'Academic stress. Income inequality. College debt worries'- 16 year-old male, Sevierville

But it's worth it, right?  Not everyone thinks so.   A Gallup poll asked recent college graduates that question.  Half say they strongly agreed that it was.  The other half did not.

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