Student loan debt surpasses $1.3 trillion

Student loan debt in America reached a staggering $1.31 trillion as of Dec. 31, 2016, according to new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The report showed that just in the last quarter of 2016, outstanding student loans balances increased by $31 billion.

This is not surprising with the constant climbing costs of college. Today, a college education is the second largest expense an individual is likely to make in their lifetime, behind buying a house.

In fact, the average cost of a single credit at a four year public university is $594.46, according to a Student Loan Hero study.

Dr. Dennis Edwards, chair of Finance and Economics at Coastal Carolina University, explained that if steps are not taken to combat student loan debt, there could be serious financial repercussions.

“This is an alarming statistic and one that shows little sign of slowing down if measures are not taken soon,” said Edwards. “There are a few people out there who think student loans might be the next bubble to burst, akin to the mortgage bubble of 2008.”

Those few people could be correct. According to the data, student loan debt accounts for  10 percent of debt balance, only second to mortgage which makes up 67 percent of the national debt pool.

Unfortunately, to echo Edwards, the rates show no sign of slowing down. The website MarketWatch has actively been tracking student loan debt since 2006 and currently, the debt is increasing at a rate of $2667.2 per second.

Not only is debt climbing at an alarming rate, the data shows that students are also falling behind on paying back their loans. In the fourth quarter of 2016, 11.2 percent of all student loan debt was 90 or more days delinquent or in default, surpassing credit card loans at 7.1 percent and auto loans at 3.8 percent.

Edwards said that this is partly due to the fact that students are not making enough money.

“Someone becoming delinquent might depend on his or her individual circumstance but if students have taken on more than they can handle, making basic payments becomes increasingly difficult if they’ve secured employment that does not pay very much in relation to the debt they have taken on,” said Edwards.

He added that this statistic is one that should be watched.

“This is the statistic that will give us an indication of a bubble about to burst,” said Edwards. “One or two people defaulting here and there will not make much of a difference. It’s when people default en masse that gives the markets pessimism.”

Falling delinquent on student loan payments can have an adverse effect on one’s credit, hindering future opportunities like attending graduate school or purchasing a house.

Jamiah Aguabella, a recent graduate of Coastal, said that he will be paying off his loans for a decade.

“I will be paying them back for 10 years,” said Aguabella. “It’s absolutely ridiculous that we have to pay thousands to universities to get a degree or else jobs won’t accept our resume. Student loans has kept me back from much more than graduate school. Starting out in a 10 year committed relationship with debt is not how I want to live my 20’s.”

With accumulating debt being an inevitable fate for most college students, the question arises of what can be done to reduce it. The most simple answer is to choose a cheaper school but for those who are already enrolled at a university, this is not very helpful.

And in reality, when students are deciding on what school to attend, cost is not number one of the list of concerns. It is actually third behind academic program and personal choice, according to Sallie Mae.

Another way to avoid a large amount of debt, Edwards explained, is to make sure to pick a realistic career path.

“The biggest mistake a person can make is to take on a tremendous amount of debt and pursue a career with an income that doesn’t do enough to satisfy his or her debt obligations,” said Edwards. “I’m the last person to say an individual should not chase their dream. However, it’s up to the student to do a net present value analysis on potential future earnings compared to the total cost—principal plus interest—of obtaining an education in that field.  If the cost outweighs the future earning potential, it isn’t a viable career path, provided that is the person’s sole income stream.”

As for reducing debt while still in college, the key is to be frugal. Making responsible choices now could positively affect one’s financial state for the rest of their lives.

“Life is about choices,” said Edwards. “Some of those choices require sacrifice. Do you need the best clothes? Do you need a new 2017 model car? Do you need to eat out every night?  Do you really need to spend $50 at the bars every weekend? Taking an honest account of expenditures and seeing where you can cut back will help. It won’t answer all your debt problems, but every little bit can help, especially when you’re young.”

Millennials distressed over state of the world

Pessimism is plaguing millennials across the globe, according to Deloitte’s 2017 Millennial Survey.

According to the survey that polled 8,000 adults from 30 different countries born after 1982, millennials overall are worried about the future of their countries and are concerned about topics of terrorism, economics, war and political tensions.

In mature markets, only 34 percent of those surveyed expect economic conditions to improve over the next year and only 36 percent predict the same for social and political situations within their countries.

After a year of political, economic and social upheaval, it is no surprise that young adults are feeling troubled. In fact, when asked by researchers to think about the state of the world in general, respondents in only 11 of the 30 countries predicted that they would be “happier” than their parents.

Ironically, one of those 11 countries is the United States.

Dr. Andrea Bergstrom, a lecturer in the Communication, Media and Culture Department at Coastal Carolina University, said that this could be due to an overarching sense of entitlement that exists among the youth in America.

“In terms of mental preparation, I don’t think younger generations are in any way prepared,” said Bergstrom. “They have always been told that if you work hard and you do what you’re supposed to do, then your life will be great—the American Dream. You’ll have your house and your 2.5 kids and your fence and all that crap, but that is also, I would argue, a kind of privileged way of thinking to begin with…They haven’t been prepared for the possibility that their lives may not be better than their parents.”

Although young adults in the U.S. may not feel as distressed as those in other mature markets, Bergstrom argues that there is reason to be concerned.

“You have been told your whole life that you’re going to be able to do this, and you’re going to achieve that, and your life is going to be great and everything is better for each generation,” said Bergstrom. “This is the first generation in memorable recent history that that’s not going to be the case.”

Millennials, having lived through the 2008 economic meltdown, are increasingly worried about the job market. Because of this, young adults, who statistically prefer the advantages of working as freelancers or consultants, are now seeking full-time employment.

According to the survey, two-thirds of respondents said they would prefer a stable, full-time job over the flexibility of freelancing.

Bergstrom said that with the recent economic past, it makes sense that students are seeking full-time employment.

“I think particularly with the recent unstable economic past, I think students have seen a lot of their parents have financial hardships that they hadn’t seen before or anticipated when they were younger,” said Bersgtom. “And I think that is an important realistic shift. I’m not saying people shouldn’t try to be entrepreneurs. I think that’s great. But, you really can’t have it both ways.”

Senior Lindsey Hanks echoed the results of the survey. 

“I would much rather have a full-time career and job security than ‘job-hop,’” said Hanks. “I don’t want to have to constantly be worried about keeping my job or looking for a new one, or worried about money and having enough of it.”

While unemployment and economic issues are serious concerns among millennials, according to the survey, terrorism is the number one worry. Collectively, 56 percent of respondents cited war, terrorism and political tension to be their top concern.

What is particularly interesting is that in 2014 the results showed that only 15 percent identified terrorism as one of the world’s prominent challenges, while a majority considered the environment and resource scarcity to be the top concern.

Senior TJ Kilbride explained that this is troubling to him.

“Most millennials are afraid of terrorism more so than environmental issues, which is very concerning to me,” said Kilbride. “But what is even more concerning is that millennials are more concerned with terrorism than unemployment. That really worries me because that may lead people to not really think about what might happen if there is something that makes them lose their job. These are things that we should really be focusing on and less on what the media is trying to make us focus on.”

Despite the overall feeling of negativity among millennials, the survey states that young adults are the ones who incite the most change, especially within the working world. This is due to the fact that millennials are better with technology and more creative than their counterparts.

“The Millennials covered by the survey are not mere observers; increasingly and collectively, they have the potential to change the world around them,” the study states. “This is especially true within the workplace—once again, business has the potential to be a force for positive change that shines through as a core belief of the Millennial generation.”

Similar to the survey respondents, Hanks believes that millennials were raised to be more creative and technologically savvy.

“I think people in our generation were encouraged early on to be creative, instead of having our dreams or creativity stifled,” said Hanks. “We also never grew up without technology, so we’re able to grasp concepts about computers, smart phones, devices, and the internet, a lot quicker than others.

While statistically millennials are more capable in these aspects, it is concerning to some that many young adults expect to be successful without putting in the time and effort needed.

Bergstrom explained that it is going to take more than these skills to pay the bills.

“I think that there is a huge tech savvy that is more innate if you’ve grown up with it,” said Bergstrom. “And I do think there is a lot of creativity. I think being able to meld those two things leads to a lot of opportunities once you’re in the door…There are some that just want to skate through whatever this experience this is and think on the other side that things are going to be great. That’s the piece of it that concerns me. But I think there’s a lot of opportunity for people who want to put their head down and work for it.”

College students: To eat or not to eat?

As if getting a degree was not difficult enough already, recent studies show that as the price of college increases, so does the rate of hunger and homelessness among college students in the United States.

Coordinator of Civic Engagement at Coastal Carolina University Elaine Giles explained that because of this, many students are being faced with an impossible decision.

“I think folks often have to make the choice of, do I use my financial aid money or do I use scholarships or loans to pay for books, to pay for my tuition or do I use that for living expenses,” said Giles. “I think sometimes, unfortunately, students have to make that difficult decision of, should I do well academically or do I eat today?”

The average cost of tuition at a four-year university has more than doubled in the last 30 years, increasing from a yearly tuition of $8,238 to $18,632, according to The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

With the constantly climbing costs combined with the decreasing amount of coverage from Pell grants, which were first implemented in the 1970s to aid low-income students in paying for college, it is no surprise that food and house insecurity among students continues to be a detrimental problem.

In fact, when they were first introduced, Pell grants covered 75 percent of college costs. Today, they cover a measly 30 percent. Additionally, two-thirds of current recipients grew up in households that fall below 150 percent of the federal poverty line.

A study by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness surveyed 3765 students in 34 different institutions across 12 states in October 2016. The study found that 48 percent of students reported experiencing food insecurity in the previous 30 days, 22 percent of those qualifying as hungry.

Unfortunately, those students who experience food insecurity also often experience housing insecurity.

Of those 1800 students that reported experiencing food insecurity, 64 percent also reported experiencing housing insecurity, with 15 percent reporting experiencing “some form of homelessness in the past 12 months.”

These outside factors tend to weigh heavily on the success of low-income college students. In fact, the NCES found that only 14 percent of students from the bottom 20 percent of household incomes completed a bachelor’s degree or higher within eight years of graduation.

In response to the growing number of food insecure students, universities and colleges across America are beginning to offer food pantries and other resources.

Coastal Carolina University is no exception.

The CINO Pantry was first established in the fall of 2012 by an FYE class and, at the time, was housed in UP. Unfortunately, according to Giles, after the students graduated it became dormant.

In the fall of 2015, the pantry reopened in the Lib Jackson Student Union and remains there today.

“When I heard they were transitioning, there were still students that would seek out the CINO pantry for those resources,” said Giles.

Free to all students, faculty and staff, the pantry is open Monday through Friday.

Giles explained that all are welcome to stop by at any time. The process is simple.

“Students, faculty and staff can come in and say, ‘I’d like to visit the pantry,’” said Giles. “We get the visitors to fill out a form just explaining the CINO Pantry and recognizing that there is a risk. It’s a liability waiver. Then, they go in and take what they need. When they’re done, they just let us know that they finished up in the pantry. They can come visit as much and as often as they’d like.”

The CINO pantry is not going un-utilized. In the fall of 2016, Giles said that 34 students visited the pantry. She added that there are likely other students who needed the services, but did not know that Coastal offered them or were unaware of where they were located.

During homecoming week, Coastal holds a can drive event called Can-struct. Giles explained that it is these donations that supply the majority of goods in the pantry.

“We have a lot of canned vegetables and canned fruit and canned soup,” said Giles. “A lot of that comes comes from the Coastal Can-struct event that happens during homecoming week. We’re actually still going off of Can-struct donations from 2015.”

Currently, the pantry only accepts shelf stable food such as cereal, protein bars, pasta, shelf stable milk and meats. In the future, Giles hopes to have the resources that are able to accommodate for other goods.

“One day I would love to see the pantry expanded to where we have a fridge and can take other things or we have a community garden and can actually do fresh produce,” said Giles. “I think that would be really cool, knowing that what our pantry has now isn’t really high in nutritional value.”

If you would like to donate goods to the pantry, Giles explained that it is best to contact her first to make sure they have room. Her email is egiles@coastal.edu.

There are also opportunities to donate to the local food pantries, such as Catholic Charities located directly across from University Suites.

United against an unconstitutional ban

A week after President Donald Trump signed an immigration ban, U.S. judges from at least five states have ruled against the executive order, barring all federal authorities from enforcing it.

The order banned all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely and citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen—all predominately Muslim countries—for 90 days. If enforced, this order could affect more than 20,000 refugees, in addition to thousands of students across the nation.

Following the lead of U.S. District Judge Anne Donnelly from Brooklyn, New York, who ruled in favor of two Iraqi men who were being held at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, judges from Massachusetts, California, Virginia, and Washington state issued similar orders.

On Friday, Feb. 4, Judge James Robart of Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington temporarily blocked the immigration ban from being enforced. Robart’s order allowed those from the seven listed nations who had previously been authorized to travel, and all vetted refugees, to enter the U.S.

The White House promptly released a statement following the court order, pledging to file an emergency stay of the ruling to reinstate the president’s “lawful and appropriate order.”

“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” said the statement.

On Sunday, Feb. 6, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco rejected the request submitted by the Justice Department to immediately restore the travel ban. The court said that they expected a response from the Trump administration by the following day.

With the constant battle between the courts and the administration, many are left questioning the legality of the ban.

The Anti-Discrimination statute of 1965 outlaws the discrimination of a person based on “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence,” which Trump’s order inherently does, according to the judges that have ruled against it. Of course, Congress could choose to amend or repeal the statute, like it can with any law.

Another argument highlighted by the recent court orders is that the ban violates due process and equal protection under the Constitution. Due process states that all people, even illegal immigrants, are entitled to certain legal rights before the government can force them to leave. Equal protection requires the government to treat all people equally regardless of race, alien status, nationality, etc.

Because of how quickly this order was put into place, many argue that there was no opportunity for affected individuals to practice their right to due process and make their case. Much more troubling is the question of whether the order violates equal protection by intentionally discriminating against Muslims. 

Trump has denied accusations that the order is a “Muslim ban,” based on the argument that the seven countries that were chosen have been home to conflict in the recent years and present a significant terrorism threat to the U.S. The order also cites the changes to the visa waiver program that were made by Obama administration in 2015 that placed those persons who had recently visited any of the listed seven countries under greater scrutiny before being permitted to enter the U.S.

The president’s argument is flawed, however, due to the fact that he has openly prioritized Christian refugees. The order does this by stating that once the 120-day ban is lifted, preference goes to those of “a minority religion in the individual’s country.” Being that the order specifically applies to seven predominately Muslim countries, it is clear to what the “minority religion” is. In fact, Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network that he planned to prioritize Christian refugees, mere days before signing the order.

More far-reaching than due process and equal protection combined, is the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which enacts the separation of church and state and declares that the government cannot favor one religion over another. While due process and equal protection can only aid those persons who are already in the U.S., if it is decided that the order violates the Establishment Clause, a court could easily rule against the ban entirely.

Following the court rulings, the U.S. State Department and U.S. Department of Homeland Security have taken immediate measures to reverse the ban.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the State Department’s Director of Refugee Resettlement Lawrence Bartlett sent an email stating that steps are currently being taken to rebook travel for refugees, including those from Syria.

A State Department official also told The New York Times that until a new order is issued in the courts, the Department “will go back to vetting refugees, booking their travel and bringing them to the United States.” The arrival of these refugees is expected to begin as early as this week.

‘Global Gag Rule’ counterproductive to its purpose

As one of his first acts as president, Trump reinstated a Reagan-era policy that prohibits United States funding for global health providers who perform or discuss abortion as a family-planning option.

The global gag rule, formally known as the Mexico City Policy, was first enforced under the Reagan administration in 1984 and has since been reinstated by every Republican president.

This time, however, the policy extends to “to global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies,” as stated in a Presidential Memorandum released on Jan. 23.

Activists fear that this far-reaching policy could affect various nongovernment organizations (NGO) that provide lifesaving treatments outside of family planning, such as those that distribute bed nets for malaria, provide childhood vaccines, combat ebola and Zika, etc.

According to analysis from PAI, a global health NGO, the gag rule impacts over $9 billion of U.S. funds, compared to $575 million when George W. Bush reinstated the policy in 2001.

The U.S. funding of abortions in foreign countries as a method of family planning has been outlawed since 1973 by the Helms Amendment.

This means that, in reality, the global gag rule prevents women from accessing basic sexual and reproductive services, like gynecological exams, H.I.V. prevention and contraception. Instead of curtailing the rate of abortion, research has shown that when the policy is in place the rate for unsafe abortions actually increases, especially in rural areas.

After Bush reinstated the policy in 2001, a study conducted by Stanford University found that there was a surge in abortion rates in 20 sub-Saharan African countries. In developed countries, the rate remained relatively unchanged.

The study stated that, “If women consider abortion as a way to prevent unwanted births, then policies curtailing the activities of organizations that provide modern contraceptives may inadvertently lead to an increase in the abortion rate.”

With the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating yearly that 21.6 million women experience an unsafe abortion and 47,000 die from related complications across the globe, it is evidenced by research that the rates will only increase due to the reinstatement of the gag rule.

Director of Women’s and Gender Studies Dr. Ina Seethaler expressed her discontentment about the policy’s repercussions.

“…The global gag rule is clearly attempting to prohibit women to become informed about all their reproductive choices,” said Seethaler. “As the numbers of deaths that will likely result from this policy show, this decision was not made with women’s and children’s health in mind but to take away women’s bodily autonomy. It’s a political and ideological decision that condones putting women’s lives at risk.”

Because the U.S. is the world’s largest bilateral family planning donor, when the rule is instated organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International (MSI) suffer greatly.

In a statement released by MSI, the director Marjorie Newman-Williams explained that the gag rule is counteractive.

“Attempts to stop abortion through restrictive laws—or by withholding family planning aid—will never work, because they do not eliminate women’s need for abortion,” said Williams. “This policy only exacerbates the already significant challenge of ensuring that people in the developing world who want to time and space their children can obtain the contraception they need to do so.”

Seethaler echoed this statement, stating that “the only way to prevent unsafe, ‘back-alley’ abortions is to legalize abortion.”

“Legal abortion, provided in a medical environment like at a Planned Parenthood, is safe, in fact, in many cases safer than carrying a pregnancy to term, especially in countries with high maternal mortality rates,” said Seethaler.

MSI also estimated that there will be “2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths under Trump’s first term that could have been preventable.”

MSI typically receives $30 million per year in U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding, which provides 1.5 million women in over 12 countries with family planning services.

But if they are unable to find donors, the organization will be forced to cut these programs.

“Abortion is a fundamental right for women and also very necessary public health intervention,” Maaike van Min, MSI’s London-based strategy director, told Reuters. “Aid is under pressure everywhere in the world and so finding donors who have the ability to fund this gap is going to be challenging.”

A decline in family planning programs can also lead to an increase in the risk of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

According to a policy review conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, in 2001, the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association went from receiving 426,000 condoms to becoming ineligible for shipments, even though the organization does not provide abortion counseling. At the time, one in four women in the country were H.I.V. positive.

Recently, the Executive Director of the association Lerotholi Pheko told The New York Times that he was fearful of “a hit to his operating budget.”

“If we are not able to increase the income we get locally, it would mean that we would have to downsize,” said Pheko.

Another program that could face serious losses is The Family Life Association in Swaziland, an area that has one of the world’s highest H.I.V. infection rates.

The association, which receives a quarter of its funding from the U.S., provides abortion information to women infected with H.I.V. when necessary, even though the land-locked country only allows abortion in cases of rape and incest. If and when this occurs, patients are typically referred to adjoining South Africa, where abortion is legal.

Executive Director of the Family Life Association Zelda Nhlabatsi also expressed her concern to The New York Times about the possible negative outcomes that could arise from the newly reinstated policy.

“Our organization could definitely be affected, including our H.I.V. services, and you can imagine how detrimental that could be for a small country like Swaziland that’s been heavily affected by H.I.V.,” said Nhlabatsi.

Although the policy is in effect, Seethaler explained that there are various ways that any concerned citizen can aid in supporting the cause.

“If you want to support reproductive justice globally, including in the U.S., you can call your political representatives and voice your concerns,” said Seethaler. “You might also consider volunteering at organizations in the U.S., like Planned Parenthood, who are collaborating with other organizations overseas. Keep educating yourself about this topic. Women’s and Gender Studies courses are great ways to learn more about reproductive justice, why it is so important, and what we can do to support human rights.”

If interested in donating, visit the DKT International Family Planning and HIV Prevention at http://www.dkinternational.org/ and/or Planned Parenthood Global at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/.