In Their Own Words: Student Debt Stories from Iowans

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, Iowa borrowers owe more than $13 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 Iowa is above 426,000, 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, 63% 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, Iowans who graduated from public or private 4-year colleges owe more than $29,800 in student loans: the 20th highest average in the country.

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 Iowans 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:

“I thought I was co-signing a PLUS loan for my son. It turns out it is the only type of PLUS loan that is the sole responsibility of the parent to repay. The only way to get it off my back is to stay in Public Service for 10 years while making payments. This has limited my options, earning potential and mobility, but I am sticking with it because I don’t want to be paying my son’s student loans until I am 80 years old!”
~ Nancy W.

“I’m 50 years old with two children whose college education I’d love to help finance, but I’m buried under my own student loan debt. I took out the loans for 4 years of graduate school almost 20 years ago, and won’t be able to finish paying them off until at least another 20 years -well past my retirement.”
~ Penelope M.

“I’m about 30,000 in debt not working in my field of study. My student loans are affecting my credit and preventing me from getting any financial assistance for housing or transportation.”
~ Cody F.

“I have more than $90 thousand dollars in student loans and will begin making payments in 3 months. The knowledge that I am of negative net financial worth and only beginning my career makes my stomach hurt. I believe the current options for financing higher education put students in an impossible situation. Coming from a lower-to-middle class family, government-sponsored student loans were my best chance at investing in my talents and choosing to develop an expertise that will contribute to a better society. I will begin a position in healthcare in two months and more a quarter of my monthly income will be put toward my student loan payments.”
~ Dominica R.

Problems with student loan companies:

“My husband and I have been working our way up in the business world by taking turns attending school and eventually both of us received our Masters degrees. Unfortunately, our loans have been sold so many times now, and the lenders have been very difficult to work with, so our total loan debt is completely unmanageable. We are very worried that our children will end up in the same situation since they both want to attend college. Please help make college affordable for everyone!”
~ Erin F.

Victims of predatory for-profit colleges:

“I went to the Art Institutes in Los Angeles California in 2008 after losing my job and savings, thinking of starting over again and enhancing my skills. The college promised me everything in helping me, to which when I got there and running out of money (and no help as they promised) I was evicted from the student apartments. Thinking of still succeeding, I took the classes online back in Iowa, to which I found out of their for-profit scheme too late in racking up student debt from them. The major part of the student debt crisis is from these for-profit colleges in it just to get the federal aid money. It needs to fall right back onto them to put them out of business…Going to the Art Institutes in California was the worst mistake in my life, their promises of help and guidance was all to get me in the door and get the cash-these scammers need to be stopped and the debt they put on me and others put back on them…”
~Tone’ D.

“I’m [$50,000] in debt for a school that was a joke and they told me that I was guaranteed a job in the field and when I got out I couldn’t find anything in my field and that pays enough to cover my $700 a month in student loan. The school was a waste of time and i learned nothing that they said i would. And the interest rate on my loan is 19% which is an outrage. I can’t continue paying this much for nothing. I have two kids and trying to buy a house isn’t an option because of the debt of these loans. Please help me.”
~ Robert C.

“Corinthian didn’t even notify me [that they shut down] and they still haven’t since Everest was shut down. I still have a federal loan for that school…I specifically said that I didn’t want a student loan: I wanted to use Pell Grants [but] they told me they still needed me to fill out the FAFSA…I didn’t want a student loan at all. All Everest was is a joke and piece of work who screwed up their students records and screwed the students…they didn’t care about us. All they wanted was money…I was lied to…I found out after the fact that I could go without having to use a loan that I didn’t want…now I’m stuck trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do since they got shut down.”
~ Cassandra B.

“I attended the school and obtained a BS in Homeland Security in the hopes of finding a career through the schools job placement service. To date I have been working with them since…Much of the work is being done by me as the school’s service rarely helps me. I have had to poke and prod them to even fax my resume to anyone. Now I’m over $75k in student loan debt for a bachelor’s degree that has done nothing more than secure me jobs in retail alongside high school kids!”
~ Leif E.

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 Iowans and for the rest of the country.

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