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Student Debt In The Spotlight

Josh James

With UK officials poised to approve a five percent tuition hike, the growing problem of student debt is once again in the spotlight on campus.

If OKed by the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees, tuition for in-state students would go up by $249 dollars. And while the increase is relatively modest this year, it’s the mounting cost of higher education in general that has many students and families worried they’ll be priced out.

Democratic State Rep. Kelly Flood joined a small group of activists with the Progressive Change campaign Committee at UK Thursday in support of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's bill that would allow student loan borrowers to refinance high-interest loans down to rates offered to new federal borrowers. Flood also called on the legislature needs to find ways to reverse the state higher education cuts that have led to higher and higher tuition.

"We've probably hit the limit for working class families," she said.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton says currently about half of UK students graduate with student loan debt.

"Of those that do graduate with debt, the average is about $23,000. The national average is about $25,000. The rule of thumb is that, if possible, you want to try to not have debt that exceeds what you're getting paid in your first job."

And administration officials argue that’s the case for most students graduating with debt at UK. They point to national U.S. Census Bureau statistics that show workers with college degrees making, on average, close to $22,000 more a year than those with only high school diplomas.

But Kentucky statistics from the Council Postsecondary Education showed new hires making just $16,644 more with a college degree back in 2011.

UK senior Grace Wise says student debt doesn't exist in a vacuum.

"People are trying to start out their lives, start off in entry-level jobs with families. They can't be expected to pay student loans on top of child care, health care, house payments, car payments," she says.

UK officials hope an $11 million increase in university-funded student aid will help drive drown the number of students graduating with debt.

Nationally, outstanding student loan debts top $1.2 trillion, surpassing credit card debt.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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