Walter Wendler examines college debt and single parents

(Editor’s note: third in a series on student loan debt.)

While debt for a college education can be debilitating for many, it can be especially crippling for single parents. For example, a 48-year-old single mother has a cumulative debt of $ 430,000 for graduate degrees. Her dream of becoming a college professor led her to what she ultimately sees as an unfortunate decision.

In all likelihood, even with a doctorate, she will never be able to repay what she owes. As with many single parents carrying the burden of school debt, her life is complicated by additional complications such as caring for a girl with leukemia. After graduating in 2014, his student debt accumulated over $ 70,000 in interest and continues to grow, according to a report in Business Insider. His only hope lies in the birth of a completely redesigned student loan program. Although this case is atypical, it is illustrative and noteworthy for parents of children who wish to attend or complete university.

Adding to the cumbersome shuffling are predatory lenders and universities who are dishonest with students and their ability to repay student loans. In addition, politicians continually make promises to ease the burden of educational debt. They do not have. President Biden has campaigned for the cancellation of $ 10,000 in student debt for each borrower, and some are urging him to increase it to $ 50,000. However, no debt cancellation has been carried out to date. The excessively high interest rates on some student loans don’t help either.

Parent Plus loans, for example, have an interest rate of over 6.28% for the 2021-2022 school year. Typical undergraduate loans are less than 4%. In addition, tuition fees have increased by over 200% during this century. Private for-profit institutions are particularly heavy on debt. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, public universities have on average more than $ 30,000 and private nonprofit institutions have just under $ 34,000 in bachelor’s debt. Unfortunately, for-profit students borrow nearly $ 44,000 to pursue undergraduate studies in the hopes that the degree will help solve their financial problems.

Although tuition fees have increased dramatically as noted above, the growth rate of student loan debt is even higher. It has increased by over 350% over the past two decades. Surprisingly, credit cards are even used to pay for college education. Fourteen percent of students have more than $ 5,000 in credit card accounts, and some banks have the nerve to advertise (apparently encourage) this temporary livelihood to even pay for tuition and fees. Increasingly, parents and grandparents are contributing to rising student debt by borrowing to help their children or grandchildren go to college. Over 10% of all borrowers with debt support a child or grandchild and use home equity loans to advance more funds.

When combined, predatory lenders, dishonest universities and up-and-coming politicians all have their part in the global student debt crisis. Single parents are particularly vulnerable. Whether their plight is the result of divided families, deaths, growing hope for the future, or the lack of a clear plan, the burden is a barometer and is usually a sign of serious storms ahead. Still, there are things single parents can do to combat this. An alternative is student loan refinancing, which should be done very carefully and with your eyes wide open.

The Public Service Loan forgiveness program is also an option. Income-tested repayment plans are another way to help single parents reduce their debt load. However, borrowers are wary: Single mothers often face employment problems according to Forbes and, on average, earn less than a third of the combined income of married couples. For some single parents, loans may be temporarily postponed, but there are implications to consider. Increasing annual income or using public assistance programs such as WIC, SNAP or CHIP can help further alleviate the debt burden of eligible people.

There is hope. Hope for financial independence, economic development for communities, regions, states and other forms of hope that some universities have sold downstream on the mantra “everyone needs a college degree”. It is important to note, however, that none of these “solutions” exempt the individual from being responsible for his university debt, whether it is to the bank, the state or the family. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that 12% of college students are single parents with dependent students. Single parents have up to 30% more debt than other students a year after graduation.

A college education should be more than an intellectually stimulating, personally satisfying and enjoyable experience. It should be all of those things, but if it doesn’t lead to fulfilling work and noble citizenship, then the institution and the borrowing student are making bad decisions with or without children.

Walter V. Wendler is president of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at

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