The impact of student debt on thousands of Coloradans


DENVER – Mel Glenn is more comfortable outdoors.

“Love it,” Glenn said. “I love being outside.”

Her degree in biology serves her well as she works on ecological restoration and mosquito control. And yet, it is the same degree that causes her daily heartburn.

“It’s just kind of a tough struggle to save,” Glenn said. “I really can’t save money because of my student loan debt.”

Sometimes she feels like she’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders – $ 80,000 in student loans.

“I’ll die with this debt,” said Glenn, a 2013 graduate of Metropolitan State University in Denver. “I’ll never pay for that.”

She is certainly not alone. An estimated 44 million Americans have student loan debt, including 800,000 Coloradans. The nonprofit Brookings Institute estimates total student loan debt at around $ 1.5 trillion in the United States.

“Some even have monthly payments over $ 1,000,” said Andrew Pentis, senior writer and certified student loan advisor at Student Loan Hero by Lending Tree.

But help may be on the way. Congressional leaders and the Biden administration plan to write off large sums of student debt. The sticking point is the amount. Some members of Congress want a loan forgiveness of $ 50,000. President Biden has said he is ready to consider $ 10,000.

“The average Coloradan has about $ 35,000 in student debt,” Pentis said.

Pentis supports all types of relief.

“If you have $ 35,000 in student loan debt and it drops to $ 25,000 overnight, that will also reduce your monthly payment.”

At the university level, financial aid counselors see the same problems.

“I see everyday how finances really are the biggest obstacle to getting a degree,” said Will Simpkins, vice president of student affairs at MSU Denver.

Simpkins says that in the 1980s, state and local government covered two-thirds of tuition fees. Fast forward 40 years, they only cover a third.

“Which means students and their families are feeling that way in their wallets, which means more debt, more loans,” Simpkins said.

Tuition fees at MSU Denver are approximately $ 8,000 per year. Across town, at the University of Denver, it’s about $ 52,000 a year.

“One of our main messages is that the sticker price is not the indicator of the institution’s affordability,” said John Gudvangen, director of financial aid at DU.

Gudvangen, for his part, is not convinced of the forgiveness of student loans. Rather, he and his team are committed to making the UA, a private school, affordable for students by counseling families before they start borrowing.

“How can we give them good advice so as not to borrow too much?” Said Gudvangen. “We take a very careful look at each student’s situation and do our best to make it affordable.”

Despite the AU sticker price, between grants and scholarships, Gudvangen said AU graduate students with relatively low debt – $ 28,000 on average.

“Our students owe a similar amount of debt to students at flagship public institutions in this state,” Gudvangen said.

Gudvangen thinks it’s a manageable amount.

And Pentis does not disagree. He says good advice and guidance is often lacking.

“We have 18 year olds, 19 year olds, 20 year olds making big financial decisions to borrow thousands of dollars and they don’t really understand what kind of burden they will have to bear when they leave. school, ”Pentis said.

While this is true for many, some are now receiving good advice. Valeria Solis, Adrina Trejo, and Katie Sanchez will graduate from Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver in May with two years of college credit, free of charge.

“I’m glad I took this opportunity when I could,” Sanchez said.

“The advantages outweighed the disadvantages of many,” Trejo said.

“I knew that as long as I worked hard and for as long as I wanted, I could do it,” Solis said. “And I had a lot of support.”

The program between Denver Public Schools and Community College of Denver, MSU Denver and CU Denver is called College Success Pathway.

“To help students progress much faster, especially students of color who are socio-economically disadvantaged,” said Emmanuel Garza, post-secondary coordinator at Lincoln High.

Students can receive two years of college credit without incurring debt.

“And help students start thinking about college early,” Garza said. “And know that they can move forward. Even to the point that they can get an associate’s degree for free. “

“All of my credits have been transferred,” said Trejo, who will be heading to the AU next fall.

Job recruiter Chris Specht points out that sometimes an associate’s degree is all you really need.

“This is a path they can take to reduce their debt burden,” Specht said.

Take the example of software engineers. Specht says many employers look for up-to-date certifications and experience, not necessarily a degree.

“A lot of these people, like the last 10 years, can go to code school,” Specht said. “And that’s basically the equivalent of going and getting an associate’s degree. You get two years of schooling just on coding, for example. “

And that brings us back to the forgiveness of student loans. Some, like Godvangen, argue that it should be specific to those who need it most.

“Why not target this relief if funds are limited?” So that no one has to pay more than they can afford. “

Others say they have paid off their debt, so why should 44 million people now receive debt relief?

And still others say general forgiveness could take a dead weight off the economy.

“You’re never going to make everyone happy,” Simpkins said.

“When I hear the argument that we don’t want to give all this money to doctors and lawyers, I say, ‘Just give the money to doctors and lawyers,” Glenn said. “It’s going to do wonders for the whole country, for the whole economy if people can spend money on anything other than interest on loans.”

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