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I-TEAM: Choosing between impact of student debt or getting a degree

Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 9:30 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The federal government put repayments on pause last March, but that order expires at the end of September.

One out of ten people could not afford their student loan payments even before the pandemic hit. Now an entire new class of borrowers is filling out financial aid paperwork to qualify for student loans this fall.

Just last President Joe Biden announced his plan to make community college free in his American Families Plan. Student loan debt is the Mount Everest of debt in America. 1.7 trillion- yes, that’s trillion. Student loan debt is 169 percent more than the entire state budget here in Georgia alone.

Clayton Hoskins knew exactly what he wanted at the age of 19.

“I always wanted a career in the military so obviously I want to be an officer. Make the money,” he said.

What he didn’t know was the price he would pay to earn that money. Hoskins is now an officer stationed at Fort Gordon.

“I wasn’t the most financially educated individual,” he said.“I do intelligence. I have a bachelor’s degree in political science, international relations, and military affairs.”

It’s a degree that earns him a salary.

“Around $14,000 in my name and around $120,000 in my parents’ name,” he said. “I remember my first paycheck when I got into the military and said, ‘Alright let’s see let’s do the math.’ I was saving maybe $150 a paycheck because everything else is going to the student payments.”

Those payments cost him more than $1,200 a month. “My rent right now is $1,115,” he said.

The I-TEAM found the average student loan debt in Georgia was $44,872 in 2020. Yet, the average salary in Georgia out of college is $39,088. They owe more than they can earn in a year. What’s more is that loan borrowers in Georgia hold the third-highest debt burden in the nation.

Paine college graduates are among the highest in the Augusta area to go into default. Aiken Tech graduates hold the second highest default rate followed by Augusta Technical College.

Hoskins did not qualify for service member relief but has never defaulted on his loans.

“Now I am in a much better place. I’ve been in the military for a while promoted….right now I make a lot more money than when I first joined,” he said.

His degree led to a high earning in-demand job. Architecture, engineering technology, IT, healthcare, and engineering are the highest earning bachelor’s degrees. Psychology, social service, and education degrees earn about $20,000 less a year.

“Back in the day you could wait tables and go to college and have it all paid for that’s simply not the case anymore it hasn’t been the case in the last 30 years or so,” he said.

The average cost of college has increased 220 percent since 1971. The high cost of tuition coupled with the highest student loan debt in history has activists demanding reform. The president has promised to tackle the student loan debt crisis but it’s unclear how he plans to take action.

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