Student debt in the United States now stands at over a trillion dollars. And it’s going up, to the tune of 2,700 dollars per second. FRANCE 24 reporters Philip Crowther and Gallagher Fenwick spoke to Americans struggling to pay back student loans and the lucky few who managed to avoid the debt trap.
Our reporters met current students, parents, teachers, and former students in three states: Maryland, North Carolina, and New Orleans.
In Maryland, FRANCE 24 spoke to Nina Ogor and her mother. After recently graduating from the University of Maryland, Nina still lives at home with her mother. Several small jobs keep Nina afloat, but she earns just 12 dollars an hour. That’s not enough to cover her monthly 1,200 dollar student loan repayment.
She’s not the only one in debt in this household. Her mother is still weighed down by her student loans. Together they owe 150,000 dollars.
Theirs is one of the many shocking examples of student debt accumulated over the years by Americans.
The price of an education in North Carolina, for example, stands at over 120,000 dollars for an out-of-state student. That’s approximately the national average.
Our reporters met one of the few debt-free students at the University of North Carolina in Asheville.
Gray Barrett pays nothing, not a single dollar. He’s one of the lucky winners of the ultimate prize, a full scholarship. Gray happily shows us the complete package on offer at his college. In the USA, a university needs to have it all to attract students and their tuition payments: the sports stadium, the idyllic campus, and all the other bells and whistles necessary to get a young American to sign up for the college experience.
But Gray Barrett is an exception.
Like 70% of all American university students, David Augustine Jr., took out loans to pay for his business studies degree which he completed in 2009. Our reporters met the man now known as Dee-1 in his hometown of New Orleans.
He also owed thousands to Sallie Mae, the company that provides student loans. He became a full-time rapper, and luckily his success enabled him to pay back his loan. David Augustine Jr. has now written a song in which he slams a system that is "out of control". His video, posted in February, was viewed more than a million times in only a week. The Washington Post newspaper even says his hit might be "the anthem for a generation".
The rapper now takes his song to university campuses around the country. And each time it touches a nerve – there are 40 million Americans who still have not paid back their student loans.