In Their Own Words: Student Debt Stories from Californians

This is part of an ongoing series by Higher Ed, Not Debt highlighting student debt issues and personal stories across several states.

The student debt crisis in the United States continues to grow, and the impact of the crisis is being felt across the lives of 44 million people across the country. Totaling at $1.5 trillion nationwide, student debt has a significantly debilitating effect on the lives of students and families. It presents a fundamental issue that majorities of the public want to see addressed.

Collectively, California borrowers owe more than $129 billion in federal and private student loan debt. While data on the total number of federal and private student loan borrowers is limited, we at least know that the total number of federal student loan borrowers in California is above 3.7 million, according to the office of Federal Student Aid. Including people who only took out private loans, the total number of borrowers is expected to be higher.

In 2017, 50% of BA graduates in the state incurred student debt from an ever-increasing price of higher education – their financial futures foreclosed upon due to this debt.

On average, Californians who graduated from public or private 4-year colleges owe more than $22,700 in student loans: the 4th lowest average in the country. While this average is low compared to other states, California is one of the most expensive states to live in in terms of housing costs. This factor, in addition to factors such as average income, the nature of student debt burdens Californians looks different from the raw average amount.

However, this debt doesn’t just come from college tuition and fees alone. In addition to the holistic costs of the college experience (housing, food, transportation, materials, etc), students may find themselves deeper in debt because of predatory practices by student loan servicers. Hundreds of thousands of borrowers are subject to the exploitative practices of student loan companies that increase borrowers’ debt burdens through sloppy servicing and deceptive counseling practices.

Others are victims of for-profit college scams. After the uncovering of widespread fraud and abuse among some of the largest for-profit college chains, defrauded borrowers are still left holding the bag.

To best show the real affects of the student debt crisis, we want to go beyond data alone. We want to share some the stories that Californians submitted to us that illustrate the many ways that student debt is impacting their lives, and their calls to fix this crisis.

The debilitating impacts of student debt:

“As one who works for the nonprofit sector, I am crippled by $100,000 in student loan debt. As a resident of San Diego, I live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation. The median home price here is $508,000. I own a condo, not a home–which means I have a $825 HOA fee to pay every month, and property taxes that equal $466 per month. Although I allegedly qualify for loan forgiveness for 10 years of nonprofit service, I have yet to receive this benefit. Student loan debt is crippling an entire generation of Americans. A high school diploma no longer guarantees success. We should be funding all students through 4 years of college (which must be completed in no more than 5 years!), and we should be forgiving the debt of a generation that is living at home with their elderly parents, because they can’t afford to establish themselves in a middle-class home.”
~ Martin F.

“I am currently in school for my graduate degree, and have come to the conclusion that student debt never goes away unless you are rich or you hit the lottery. I am already $20K in the whole and will have more debt owed once I complete my graduate degree. I still live at home with my parent, I am not able to make an adequate living based off of what I get paid now, and I can barely afford healthcare… The American Dream: get an education, start a career, have a family and live life. How are we supposed to do that when one student loan payment for some of us is over $300 a month? On a salary of less than $40K? I really hope that these politicians who are supposed to work for us in office think about what it is like for the average American student to pay for college.”
~ Ashley C.

“I have grand children who are saddled with debt after having graduated. One of them can’t afford to continue school because she has debt from her first 2 semesters, took a break and now is faced with paying it back. So she can’t finish college because the debt stands in her way. Not the way it should be.”
~ Olivia D.

Problems with student loan companies and for-profit colleges:

“$300,000 student loan debt from 1990’s. Predatory lending from Sallie Mae & Navient. It is a very long story but this amount was on an original loan that was $50,000. It has been a nightmare but I have all the paperwork from 1990’s and fighting the amount, the payment amounts, the interest rate, the abuse of the collection companies.” 
~ Janice H.

“Navient had been my student loan servicer before, and they were terrible: poor customer service, misleading or incorrect information, and long processing times. On top of that, they’re facing a massive lawsuit for just these kinds of practices. They should not be entrusted with servicing student loans. I am asking you to please bar them from becoming a loan servicer. I am satisfied with my loans being serviced by the Dept of Ed and I would like you to give them more resources so they can improve response time.”
~S. Ghanbarpour

“I was awarded my Bachelor of Science degree in 2000 when I was 51 years old and was one of the oldest members in my graduating class. I graduated with high honors and am very proud of my accomplishments. I have been paying my school loans since that time, except for about three years when I was without work and had to be in deferment, which added $1,500 and $1,800 interest per quarter to my debt. All I see is tons more interest added — I originally borrowed a bit over $30,000 and even having consistently made my school loan payments all these years, my debt is still around $56,000!!!! First I had Wells Fargo Educational Services, then another company, then ACS, now Navient. These companies are all ripoffs! I am retired and there has to be a way to forgive some of this debt, which is now mostly interest. This is absolute robbery!”
~ Carloyn T.

“I signed up with a for-profit computer college, Education America University, and incurred $10,000 of debt. If I’d gotten a job out of it, I could have paid that off easily. But most of the classes were worthless, many of the teachers didn’t know what they were supposed to teach, and the certificate was worthless because they wouldn’t let anyone fail, even if they flat-out didn’t study or do the work. Their placement didn’t work, either.”
~ Leo O.

I attended The Art Institute of California – Orange County, [a] for-profit [college] that also used deceptive recruitment tactics to snare hundreds of thousands of students into suffocating & never-ending debt for a degree no one will recognize. The quality of education was under par, compared to the expectation of the industry standard. The main fraudulent tactic they used was to exaggerate their job placement success & income expectancy statistics, in order to close the deal on unsuspecting students. All for-profits…follow this deceptive recruitment template as their business plan.”
~ German M.

“I attended a For Profit School Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Since graduating, the school AND Sallie Mae/Navient have been, or are being sued for what is basically considered fraud. The school did not fulfill it’s advertised expectancy of providing a viable program the allowed potential career growth. I am no longer in the culinary field as I was not able to earn enough to cover the student loan payments. Because of the loan company’s insistence of entering a forbearance every time I found myself behind in payments, my current loan balance is now over $90,000.000. The original loan amount was less than $42,000.00. I desperately need loan forgiveness considerations, and am actively pursuing those options.”
~Joseph H.

These people could be your neighbors, your co-workers, they could even be you or members of your family. Their stories are relatable, and therein lies the problem: too many people are suffering under student debt, and more will if we don’t tackle college costs and crack-down on predatory practices by industry. We must solve this student debt crisis for Californians and for the rest of the country.

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