The facts are clear –getting a college or graduate education is more expensive than ever, meanwhile, actually getting a job once you have an education is harder than ever. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 60% of college graduates in 2008 had student loans, up from about 50% when I graduated from school in the 1990s. The average student loan debt today is about $25,000 and half of students graduating in 2012 are jobless. It’s no surprise that student loan relief made it to the top list of concerns of the Occupy movement –it’s a defining issue for the majority of people graduating from college today.
No doubt, entering working life with student loans impacts early decision-making that creates lasting impressions on a person’s life trajectory. Student loans delay a lot of major life events –marriage, having children, buying a home, just to name a few. Having student loan debt also drives graduates away from public interest work and towards other career choices that may provide an easier financial path. The high cost of education makes it harder for people without means to pursue public interest work. Don’t we need all hands on deck? There are a few programs out there that help take the bite out of the stress of student loans for people in public interest careers, such as the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, which provides loan forgiveness for those who work in public service for ten years. But these programs don’t go nearly far enough to equalize the playing field.
We need diverse, bright, committed, and creative people available to take the helm of nonprofit and government efforts for the future of the Chesapeake Bay. I’m wondering what our Chesapeake Bay public interest work force is going to be like in the future if we continue going down our current path? Who will be left standing?