As millennials become parents, unprecedented student loan burdens are making it hard for them to give their children the same educational opportunities they enjoyed.
Six out of 10 parents are saving for college, setting aside an average of $18,135, according to a national study by Sallie Mae, a student loan company. Many of them are spending less on household and personal items, increasing their income by working more hours or using cash back from reward programs to put into college savings accounts.
But for parents with student debt of their own, even those sacrifices aren’t enough to let them save. In the U.S., Americans now owe more than $1.56 trillion in student loan debt, with the number continuing to rise. Out of the total 44.7 million borrowers, those between the age of 30-39 account for the most outstanding student loan debt, making up 62.5 percent of all Americans with student loan debt. Until 2014, borrowers under 30 accounted for the most student loan debt outstanding.
“It used to be that most students were traditional students, meaning you went to college right after high school, or you went to graduate school right after college. You were mostly done by your mid to late 20s,” said Harry Holzer, a professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. “That’s changed a lot.”
When Lauren Youngblood enrolled in Howard University in 1999, she never considered how her decisions would affect her two children, two decades later. She now owes a total of $128,000 in student loans.
“I was probably in that first group of people who started really taking out high student loans without really understanding what we were signing up for,” said Youngblood.
The debt was manageable until 2011, when she and her husband were both laid off. The year before they gave birth to their first child. By the time their first-born turned four in 2014, Youngblood and her husband quickly realized there was no way they could set aside money for college. They made a life-altering decision: Youngblood’s husband joined the military.
“It’s really hard to save for your kid’s college when you’re paying your own college until you’re almost ready to retire,” said Youngblood. “That’s one of the reasons why my husband joined the military, so that we can get the G.I. Bill for our kids.”
Holzer says the two major things people pay for are their kid’s education and their retirement.
“A lot of people don’t save enough for retirement and it’s the same thing for their kid’s education.”
On average, the cost of tuition and fees for the 2018–2019 school year was $35,830 at private colleges, $26,290 for out-of-state residents attending public universities and $10,230 for state residents at public colleges, according to College Board, an organization that administers standardized tests for college admission.
Many parents are unable to foot the bill for these costs and resort to borrowing money to cover it. The federal government caps the dollar amount of loans that undergraduate students can borrow. The same cap doesn’t exist for parents, resulting in an increase of parent borrowers. A report by Brookings showed there are 3.4 million Parent PLUS borrowers who owe a total of $87 billion, not including consolidated loans.
College degrees are a pathway to better jobs, opportunity and it’s important for the economy too.
According to a report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and The Workforce, bachelor’s degrees or higher comprise of 56 percent of all good jobs. This is due to an influx of demand for workers with at least a four-year college education. Good jobs pay on average $65,000 with a BA or higher.
“Getting a good education is the best investment that a student loan worker can make in themselves and in their future earnings,” said Holzer.
But many young parents might not be able to give their kids those opportunities.
Youngblood says it’s depressing to think about her student loans and how it has affected the quality of life for her and her family. She says she’ll be paying back her student loans until she’s 57 years old.
“Looking back, is it worth being a slave for the rest of the my life? Because that’s what I feel like,” said Youngblood. “I feel like I’m a slave to the bank.”
Despite the rising costs of tuition and more people willing to finance education through debt, Youngblood doesn’t see herself borrowing loans in the future to send her kids to college.
“I don’t need anymore student loans. Good grief, I’d be paying until I’m dead,” said Youngblood.
“We will find a way to pay for it in other ways. We’re definitely setting them up so they don’t have any student loans.”