New Report Reveals High Numbers of Teachers, Social Workers in Arizona with Unmanageable Student Loan Debt

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Arizona PIRG

More than 29 percent of all four-year public college graduates have too much debt to manage as a starting teacher in Arizona according to a new report released today by the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG). Arizona PIRG’s report, Paying Back, Not Giving Back: Student Debt’s Negative Impact On Public Service Career Opportunities, estimates the percentage of college graduates in Arizona who would have unmanageable debt it they decided to become a teacher or a social worker.

“As Arizona PIRG’s report on the impact of student debt on career choices demonstrates, high student debt burdens from undergraduate degrees negatively impacts students’ decisions to pursue jobs in fields such as nursing, teaching, and social work,” said Alanna Ossa , Vice President of Executive Affairs for the Graduate and Professional Students Association at ASU. “Also, as graduate and professional students, we are concerned that high debt from undergraduate degrees leads advanced degree students to choose careers based on immediate earning potential rather than going into the public sector.”

Arizona PIRG examined the student debt of recent college graduates compared with starting salaries for public service careers to determine the percentages of teachers and social workers with unmanageable debt in the state. ‘Unmanageable debt’ was calculated using an economic formula developed by two higher education economists to approximate the salary-to-debt thresholds at which individuals are only able to repay their loans with significant economic hardship.

Arizona PIRG found that:

  • 29.4% of public college and 49.0% of private college graduates have unmanageable debt as starting teachers.
  • Nationally, 37% of public and 55% of private college graduates would have unmanageable debt as starting social workers.

Arizona PIRG released this report today as part of a nationwide effort to draw attention to the issue of undergraduate student loan debt. More than 20 state PIRGs released this report.

“The government and schools should provide students with the opportunity to pursue their interests and apply their skills even in fields that have low salaries,” said Timothy States, representative for Arizona PIRG and a senior Justice and Social Inquiry major. “Making students increasingly reliant on larger student loans to pay for college stops some students, especially those within the lower socio-economic class, from pursuing their dreams.” States pointed out that, “Burdensome debt placed upon college graduates creates a situation where the bank and interest rates negatively control important future decisions such as careers, home purchases, and when to start a family. This debt takes away the opportunity and freedom that a college degree in America is supposed to grant to hard working students.”

Serena Unrein, Acting Director of the Arizona Students Association, stated that, “This report highlights how important it is for states and the federal government to strengthen students’ investments in higher education by increasing grant aid and making loans more affordable. As Arizona’s rising population creates a greater demand for teachers and social workers, it is particularly crucial that our policymakers address this issue if we want to encourage students to go into public service careers.”

This report comes on the heels of the largest cut to student aid programs in history. In February, Congress passed a $12 billion cut to the student loan programs, mostly from students and parents. This legislation will ensure students begin paying a fixed 6.8% interest rate on their loans starting on July 1 st, 2006.