Life After College: A Look At Student Loan Debt



Austin J. Hunt — Contributor — @ BylineBeat

(Bowling Green, Ohio) Students from all over the country are graduating this spring and looking forward to starting a new chapter in their life, but there’s one problem; many of those students will be out of work before they even start.

According to the 2011 Current Population Survey, one out of every two new college graduates are jobless or underemployed. Stephen Auchmuty graduated from Bowling Green State University in December of 2011 with a degree in Geography. After five years of college, Auchmuty has accumulated a student loan debt upwards of $40,000. According to the BGSU Student Financial Aid Department, the average graduate is walking away from Bowling Green with approximately $35,000 in debt, putting Auchmuty above the campus average.

“When I started college (August 2006) I didn’t really think about what would happen after, the loans were like fake money at the time,” said Auchmuty.

For him, the great post-graduate job never came. He has been left working in the same McDonalds uniform he was fitted for in high school eight years ago. Although he has worked his way up the fast-food ladder from cashier to department manager, it’s hardly what Auchmuty envisioned he’d be doing at this time.

“I thought I would go for four years, get a degree and then find a good job afterwards,” said Auchmuty.

Since his graduation, he has sent in numerous applications and resumes to anywhere that was willing to give them a look, including CSX, Ohio Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and Nationwide Insurance. Even with an impressive internship with the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, he has yet to lock in that solid, post-college career that so many students depend upon after graduation.

Even though many students nowadays are facing a tough life after college, some are able to land that well-paying career that will lead to success down the road.

“I’m very fortunate to be in the position I am in,” said Robert Bassett, an internal auditor for a multinational banking corporation.

After seven years of college, a bachelor’s degree from BGSU, a brief stint in law school and an MBA from BGSU, Bassett finished school with approximately $80,000 in student debt. Fortunately for him, he was able to land that well-paying job to help pay off his debt. Although he was in the same boat as many when it came to insurmountable debt, he believes people need to understand what they are getting themselves into.

“You have to be smart and get a degree with some equity,” said Bassett in a phone interview. “A college degree isn’t a golden ticket anymore, it’s just a ticket.”

Although many students don’t realize that college isn’t the “golden ticket,” a select few understand that careers aren’t just being handed out.

Sean Kennedy, a Geography major at BGSU, understands that his degree isn’t one that looks great on a resume, but he has found certain ways to separate himself from the rest of the field.

“Geography is such a broad category, but I chose it because I could do almost anything with it,” said Kennedy. “I wanted to be well rounded.”

Kennedy has traveled all over the world, including Turkey, Greece, India, Canada and Mexico. He believes that his in-depth knowledge and understanding of foreign cultures will help him chase his dreams of being a successful entrepreneur and someday be on the cover of Forbes. 

“I like to pick up in areas where I am lacking, and traveling has definitely helped me with that.” said Kennedy. “I’ve learned different ideas from traveling that I would never have learned inside a classroom.”

Even as well rounded and cultured as Kennedy is, he is still not guaranteed the job  every college graduate dreams of having. There is one thing that he is guaranteed; Kennedy will walk away with student loan debt, regardless of whether or not he finds a job.

Is it our responsibility as a society to fix this problem? If so, how do we fix it?

Dr. Mary Ellen Benedict, Distinguished Teaching Professor and head of the Economics Department at BGSU, believes that students should be educated about their financial future much sooner than their senior year of high school.

“It starts with simple concepts at a young age, which will then evolve into harder concepts, such as savings and loans,” said Dr. Benedict. “So many students don’t even understand the value of a dollar.”

Dr. Benedict stated that Ohio has recently mandated that a new curriculum be introduced and taught in social studies classes.

Along with educating younger students about financial management, Dr. Benedict believes that it ultimately comes down to one thing: Why do so many students believe they need a college degree in the first place?

“Don’t get me wrong, I believe in a college education, but on the other hand, if you get out of school and can’t find a job, that loan isn’t going to go away,” said Dr. Benedict. “I’ve seen a lot of smart kids make bad choices and now they are stuck with thousands of dollars worth of loans and nothing to show for it.”