Though the number of USC students with loans has decreased in recent years, a new study by the Pew Research Center found that about 19 percent of United States households — about 22.4 million — have student debt, a 4 percent rise since 2007 and the biggest three-year increase in 20 years.
According to the analysis, the economic downturn has made it increasingly difficult for recent graduates to find full-time jobs, causing the youngest and poorest 20 percent of households to become burdened with most of the nation’s student debt.
Kelly Chung, a sophomore majoring in biophysics, said it is difficult for young adults to worry about paying debt off in what is often the most exciting phase of their lives.
“On top of the primary expenses of living and tuition, people still want to live their lives and enjoy themselves,” Chung said. “They spend money on things they want and are not necessarily working all the time for more money. Just attempting to live a normal life as a college student is in itself one of the biggest obstacles to paying off loans.”
Dean of Financial Aid Thomas McWhorter, however, said that the number of USC students with student loans has slightly decreased. About half of undergraduates at USC are awarded federal loans and only about 36 percent of students are utilizing all of the loans offered to them, according to McWhorter.
“We’re trying to work with families to understand the value of an education and that student loans aren’t necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “But we do want students to borrow responsibly, and I think our students are.”
Catherine Keen, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said she believes people are more willing to take on student debt because they feel that having a college degree will pay off in the future.
“A lot of people are struggling because of the economy. But for parents, giving their kids a good college education clearly is still a priority and something they aren’t willing to cut back on,” Keen said. “I don’t think there’s a cut-and-dry solution to the problem, but I do think that students should be careful about debt and the loans they take out.”
McWhorter said that the average student debt of graduating seniors at USC is $23,000, not including transfer students and parent or private loans they might have accumulated. The two-year cohort default rate was 1.3 percent in 2010 and 1.6 percent in 2009.
According to McWhorter, USC also awards students need-based grants each year. This year, the university awarded students $220 million in these grants.
“At USC, our cost of attendance requires that we have loans for students who have financial aid, but the university also provides a huge commitment,” McWhorter said. “The amount of loans — federal and state money — pales in comparison to the amount of university money that is being distributed.”
Some students said that loans often deter students from attending the school of their choice. Without receiving a full scholarship, Mushfiqur Chowdhury, a sophomore majoring in international relations, said he would be unable to attend the university.
“A priority for me going to college was definitely not taking loans and having to pay interest,” Chowdhury said. “College students are really lucky to be in that position because there are so many American kids who can’t afford college at all.”
Other students, however, emphasized the importance of student loans in making higher education more accessible to those who cannot afford it.
“[Student debt] is a problem because that’s the only way some students can go to college,” said Jacky Iniguez, a senior majoring in business administration. “At USC, you definitely see a huge disparity between students who have to take out loans to go here and students that can afford it. I know for me personally, I wouldn’t be able to go here without my loans.”