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.

RIDE III road projects warrant one cent sales tax increase

The Ride III commission committee voted on a preliminary list of road projects that it says warrants a one cent sales tax increase for Horry County residents.

After various meetings, the commission decided on 13 projects considered to have high priority, as well as 100 miles of dirt road paving and an additional 100 miles of road resurfacing.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 2.14.56 PM
Photo of the 13 road projects recommended in the preliminary RIDE III project listing.

A six-lane widening of U.S. 501, four-lane widening of Carolina Forest Blvd, extending S.C. 31 to the North Carolina state-line, extending Fred Nash Boulevard to connect with Harrelson Boulevard and widening Forestbrook Road are just a few that are highlighted in the recommended project listing.

It is estimated that these projects will require a $590 million budget to execute, but the Department of Transportation estimated a much larger budget needed to complete all of the vital road improvements throughout the county.

According to Director of the RIDE III commission, Eddie Dyer, a one cent sales tax increase is essential because of the lack of funding from the state and government. 

“The feds aren’t giving us any money this year,” said Dyer. “The state of South Carolina gave us $10 million. Now, if you put $10 million beside $1.944 billion, you can see why the one cent sales tax is being proposed.”

Conway resident Jody Nyers said the challenge for the commission is going to be how to prioritize the projects.

“I truly believe that all these projects have an importance and now it is that matter of prioritizing them,” said Nyers. “What I feel is important might be different then what somebody else feels important, but I do believe that we need to get 501. It’s my number one priority or at least it would be in my mind.”

If approved in November 2016, the sales tax will go into effect May 2017 and will last eight years.

The tax will include all retail sales, prepared food, beverages and lodging rentals. All groceries are exempt.

Public Information Officer for Myrtle Beach, Mark Kruea, said that residents recognize that the need for the sales tax increase is imperative.

“The voters have approved it on 2 different occasions,” said Kruea “They understand that by virtue of all of the visitors that we get, that not only their money but all of the visitor’s money goes to pay for these road projects that we couldn’t afford any other way. The voters already said yes to it twice before so that is a good sign.”

Nyers, who has followed the initiatives since RIDE I, expressed support for the tax increase because it is being used for something that is beneficial.

“I’ve been here for RIDE I and RIDE II but I agree RIDE III mainly because the 1 cent sales tax,” said Nyers. “Anyway that we can collect money to then use it for the purpose of paving and widening is beneficial and the only way we’re going to get money to do any of this is by putting out something like a one cent sales tax. I’m a person that believes that if I’m going to pay taxes, I will gladly pay an extra cent if I know for a fact that money is going to these road improvements or establishments of new roads.”

Because of Myrtle Beach’s location, many visitors come to enjoy the beach and spend money during heavy tourist seasons like spring and summer.

Dyer said that the revenue from the tourists should take some of the costs away from residents.

“With my committee, what we’re trying to say is that this can be done with a one cent sales tax,” said Dyer. “We are a very heavy tourist area and those tourists are going to pay close to half of the overall tax. This helps take some of the burden of paying off of residents.”

If the sales tax is not approved, Horry County will only have the $10 million given to it by the state of South Carolina and will have to rework its plans entirely.

“There’s no plan B,”  said Dyer. “If you’re happy with the roads and the traffic situation around here the way it is don’t worry about the penny sales tax.”

Horry County residents will have the chance to vote in November 2016 during the primary elections.