Ciara Taylor stepped out of her borrowed Oldsmobile and shuffled into her home after another day at work. Taylor, who graduated from Florida A&M in August, was unable to afford payments on her 2003 Mercedes-Benz after it broke down.
“I am scared to look at what I owe,” Taylor said with a laugh. “It’s going to suck paying that back.”
Taylor is one of many graduates from the Class of 2012 who face an average of $25,250 in college debt, according to The Institute for College Access and Success.
And while working two jobs, juggling rent payments and dealing with graduation plans, this 22-year-old will start the grueling process of repaying dollar amounts higher than she could have planned for.
Taylor is among the hundreds of thousands of students nationwide whose college loan debt collectively skyrocketed to $1 trillion and now exceeds both credit card and car loan debt, according to a Federal Reserve Consumer Credit report.
“My estimated student loan debt has to be at least $25,000 for FAMU alone,” Taylor said. “I am not sure of the total because I went to a private school out of state first that was around $40,000 a year.”
Taylor attended Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., in the fall of 2007 before transferring to FAMU in the fall of 2010. Taylor majored in Africana studies before coming to Tallahassee to pursue a degree in Spanish and a minor in French. During budget cuts at FAMU and the impending restructuring of the university, Taylor was forced to make another decision in the spring of 2011.
“They cut the foreign language department, so I had to stay in school longer and take out more loans to matriculate to the political science program,” Taylor said.
The change added two more years to Taylor’s graduation. And more loans.
Graduates such as Taylor not only will be faced with outstanding loan payments but will also have to deal with the high unemployment around the country. Even those with a college degree are facing tougher times than in the past.
The number of people aged 25 and older with a college degree rose from 37 million to 54 million between 1994 and 2006, according to the Occupational Outlook Quarterly.
The Quarterly also said that, “in addition to earning more money, workers who have more education are also less likely to be unemployed.”
This changed drastically in 2010 when the unemployment rate for young college graduates rose from 8.7 percent in 2009 to 9.1 percent, according to The Institute for College Access and Success.
Steven Pargett, 22, a former public relations student at FAMU, is taking time off from school to pursue other endeavors.
Pargett, a former out-of-state student from Los Angeles, owes about $60,000 in college loans.
“I’ve consciously chosen to pursue entrepreneurship,” Pargett said. “I’d rather do that instead of staying in school, taking out more loans and putting myself in more debt.”
Taylor is a budding activist at FAMU. She supports the Dream Defenders, a coalition of minority youth in Florida dedicated to fighting injustices related to immigration issues, LGBT issues and education.
Taylor said she believes that the costs of unaffordable education could hurt America’s next generation of college students who are now in middle and high school.
“The issue of education couldn’t have come at a more inappropriate time, and the government need to focus its energy and money on education,” Taylor said. “We spend more money on locking people up than setting them free through the education system.”