NBC12 Investigates: Student loan debt

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Move over mortgages, there's a new growing threat to the economy. Student loans.

Americans owe $870 billion in student loans and the number is still growing. That's higher than all outstanding credit card and auto loans in the U.S.

Chanise Harris is a music performance major at VCU. To pay for school the Chester native had to take out government loans. "I really try not to think about it," said Harris. "I'll cross that bridge when I get there I guess."

She's talking about the thousands of dollars in debt piling up and hanging over her head once she graduates.

"I know like a lot of people would be like why would I pay all that money or get in debt so much when I could just go ahead and work," said Harris.

According to the Project on Student Debt, two-thirds of college seniors graduated with loans in 2010. Take a look at some of the project's research on 4-year public institutions in Virginia.

  • 32% of UVA students leave school with debt, on average $19,384 worth.
  • 52% of Virginia Tech students leave school with debt, on average $23,100 worth .
  • 42% of University of Richmond students leave school with debt, on average $23,070 worth.
  • 61% of VCU students leave school with debt, on average 25,151 worth.
  • 90% of Virginia State University students leaves with debt, on average $28,250 worth.

"Yeah, that surprises me a lot," said Harris. "I mean I know that it was going to be a substantial chunk but that's just a lot."

The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys warns the student loan debt numbers could be a ticking time bomb for the a weakened US economy.

NBC12 education specialist Dr. Bill Bosher worries for many student loan debt will be a lifelong commitment.

"It is a lot of debt and it's been growing. and that's part of the problem the trend is moving in a bad direction," said Bosher. He points out for places like Harvard and Williams students typically leave with less than $10,000 in debt. "If you're capable go to the most expensive school that you can because you'll likely come out with less debt. The end of the story should be let's find a way to either contain the cost for young people who are going to school or ways to help them."

Bosher says this is especially true when students are graduating in a time of high unemployment. If a student decides to go to grad school, their average student debt after graduation jumps to around $90,000.

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