Dan Agabiti and his wife Sherry started life like may young couples do today -- with sizable college debt.
Dan Agabiti and his wife Sherry started life like may young couples do today — with sizable college debt.
Dan Agabiti and his wife Sherry started life like may young couples do today — with sizable college debt.

Washington – Like many young couples who are starting a life together today, Dan and Sherry Agabiti carry a burden that’s largely unique to their generation – a large amount of college debt.

Dan Agabiti, 28, is a Rhode Island native who wanted the experience of attending college away from home. He enrolled as an out-of-state student at the University of Connecticut against the counsel of friends and family who warned him it would cost too much.

Although Agabiti understood when he enrolled that his tuition would be high, he figured he could manage it. What he did not understand when he enrolled 10 years ago, however, was the effect of compound interest on his student loans, which ballooned his payments after graduation to about $1,000 a month.

“Now it’s like we’re paying two rents,” said Agabiti, who graduated in 2013 with a journalism degree and lives in Stratford.

The student debt crisis has transformed the lives of an entire generation and will be an issue in the race for the White House and in congressional races as Democrats and Republicans seek votes from younger Americans.

Millennials came of age during a weak economy caused by the recession of 2008 and a sharp increase in the price of a college degree.

During their lifetimes, college costs have risen significantly, with the net price of tuition, fees, and room and board at a public, four-year college increasing 68% since the 1999-2000 academic year. The amount college students borrowed annually has doubled since then, too.

As of June 2018, Forbes reported that total U.S. student debt was $1.52 trillion and that 44.2 million people owed money.

Students in Connecticut graduated with the highest student loan debt in 2017, according to The Institute for College Access & Success, a non-profit group seeking to make higher education more accessible. Connecticut students graduated with an average debt of $38,669, TICAS said.

The crisis of student debt has prompted a slew of potential political solutions.

Progressive Democrats running for president have unveiled a variety of ideas to deal with student debt.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., released a plan in June that calls for all student debt to be eliminated regardless of family income level, and that students from families with incomes of $25,000 or less would have their college costs covered.

The plan Sanders calls a “revolutionary proposal” would be paid for with a tax on stock trades, bonds, derivatives and other types of investments.

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said she plans to cancel $50,000 in student debt for each person with a household income under $100,000.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos panned those plans, calling them a “federal takeover of higher education.” She says the burden would be shifted to those Americans who opted not to go to college.

“Their proposals are crazy,” she said. “Who do they think is actually going to pay for these? It’s going to be two of the three Americans that aren’t going to college paying for the one out of three that do. Let’s look at this for what it really is: A federal takeover of higher education.”

Congress has other ideas

Supporters of eliminating the debt that burdens many young Americans say doing so would boost the economy, as young people redirect the money they spent paying down the debt toward purchasing homes and other goods and services – benefiting everyone.

Yet a complete elimination of college debt may be a political bridge too far, and Democrats in Congress are considering more modest proposals.

The U.S. House is moving forward with the College Affordability Act, a bill that would make it easier for students to pay back loans while lowering the cost of college, with new investments in historically black colleges.

The bill, which would set federal policy at the nation’s colleges and universities, would expand Pell Grants and also implement a $94-billion program to allow states to offer tuition-free community college. Instead of canceling student-loan debt, the plan would create “more generous” loan-repayment plans.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor that crafted the bill, said eliminating all college debt “is a tall order” that would require a Democratic president to have an “overwhelming mandate” and sizable Democratic majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.

“Clearly we need a much more tangible approach,” Courtney said.

Two of his proposals have been included in the College Affordability Act.

One would allow those who have student debts to refinance their loans at today’s lower interest rates, much like some homeowners refinance their mortgages when interest rates are low.

Agabiti, who pays an average of 5.5 % interest on his student loans, says allowing refinancing of those loans “would definitely be a huge benefit.” It is also easier to do, both politically and fiscally, than eliminating all student debt.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney has helped draft a bill that aims to ease the burden of student debt.

Courtney’s other proposal that is included in the College Affordability Act would allow young farmers and ranchers to participate along with  teachers, nurses, first responders, and other public service professions in a federal program that forgives some student debt for those who go into underserved fields like teaching, public health, and law enforcement.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program provides young people going into those fields with a way to discharge the balance of their student loans following at least 10 years of consistent, on-time payments.

“This will pave the way so that young people going into critical occupations have a manageable financial portfolio,” Courtney said.

Like Courtney, Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, is a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor and helped craft the bill aimed at easing the burden of student debt.

A longtime history teacher and one-time Teacher of the Year who reported at least $115,000 in outstanding student loans when she was running for Congress last year,  Hayes contributed a number of provisions in the College Affordability Act.

Like fellow Democrat Courtney, Rep. Jahana Hayes is also involved in an effort to address the increasing cost of a higher education. In this file photo, Hayes visits the U.S. Embassy in Namibia as 2016 national teacher of the year. U.S. Embassy via Flickr

One would expand Pell Grant eligibility to more than 12 semesters for students who were scammed by for- profit-colleges like ITT Tech and Corinthian. The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduates. The maximum grant was $6,195 for the 2019-2020 school year.

Other proposals sponsored by Hayes would extend Pell grants to those who are incarcerated, and authorize a new grant program to help universities and colleges provide students with emergency funds when a financial emergency directly impacts or threatens their ability to stay in school.

Another provision backed by Hayes would require the federal government to collect new data on graduate earnings and loan repayments “to uncover and remedy systemic, long-standing racial and socioeconomic inequities in our postsecondary education system.”

“It is deeply gratifying to be a part of the reforms I so desperately needed as a student, to give a new, more diverse generation of students the support they need to succeed,” Hayes said.

While it proposes more moderate fixes than those being touted by Democratic presidential candidates, the College Affordability Act, in its current form, is unlikely to gain any traction in the Republican-controlled Senate or the Trump administration.

Still, Agabiti  is encouraged by the debate on student loans. If nothing else, national attention on the problem may prompt future students to rethink their college plans, he said.

“I am grateful we are having a conversation about what to do with the debt,” he said.

Agabiti said a typical 18-year old has little understanding of the complexities of financing a college education, which often requires several sources of income and financing. “We weren’t properly informed on the front-end,” he said.

Agabiti did not pursue a journalism career, and instead is working as a data analyst in Shelton. He questions whether he should have enrolled in UConn, but concedes that if he hadn’t attended the school, he would likely have never met his future wife, a fellow UConn student at the time.

He also said young people often don’t know why they are going to college, but feel pressured to do so when they may be better off in a field that does not require a college degree.

“As an 18-year-old you are kind of expected to know what you want to do with the rest of your life,” Agabiti said.

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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15 Comments

  1. I don t understand these college bound young adults being smart enough to attend collage but not smart enough to understand the long term finacial cost!

  2. Compounding interest on debt is not difficult to understand and those of us that have paid our loans in full or worked through school, or did not go, should not be asked to pay for other people’s student loans – no matter what the circumstances. If students want to refinance (and millions will need to) then they should do that. For those that can’t, hopefully the bankruptcy courts will help and creditors will cut deals when faced with collapse (that is coming too) for many financial institution that hold too much college debt.

    The bigger story is why did the average cost for a 4 year degree increase by almost 70% in less than 20 years? To add insult to injury most large employers say students are not prepared for the workforce, many Millenniums have graduated with useless degrees and end up doing something completely different than they wanted anyway. What Connecticut needs to focus on is getting large employers to come here and creating opportunity for growth or none of these kids will stay here, we will end up educating other states workforces.

  3. I am still surprised at Hayes debt as she as a principal married to a police captain in Waterbury had a household income of over 200k plus solid pensions meaning they could devote their income to paying it off. Am I missing something?

    1. not to mention that they both had pensions paid for by the tax payers so they didn’t even have to save for retirement with their earnings. Live it up and then cry poverty, she is a perfect representative for the people of Connecticut.

  4. Yes, college is way too expensive but it also means one must make wise choices. Did Mr. Agabiti not realize 10 years ago that journalism was not a lucrative career or one where jobs are plentiful? As a resident of RI to pay out of state tuition for UCONN was not a well thought out plan. I do feel sorry for him and lower interest rates are one thing that should be considered but not debt forgiveness.

    The article then mentions Rep. Johanna Hayes. How does a 46 year old still have 115K in student debt after going to SCSU at least 20 years ago? She had an administrative job in the Waterbury schools that paid about 115K. I know she started later in life but how did this debt snowball and is she someone who based on her history, can answer the problems of student debt.

  5. Its ironic that the same party that made most colleges unaffordable (union six-figure faculty, useless six-figure fluff administrators, unsustainable retirement packages, out of control capex) is now the party that wants to forgive student debt on the backs of the same taxpayers who foot the bill the first time. The good news is that for all this student debt, students get a free liberal brainwashing at these institutions to perpetuate the madness.

  6. This is a cause versus effect issue. It is not the “debt” that is the problem, it is the “cost”. Eliminate the excessive costs that drive up tuition in our colleges and universities and you will fix the problem. Stop chasing the effect , and instead fix the cause.

  7. It is unfortunate that we are not requiring our youth to grow up to adulthood in high school as was done in the earlier generations. Typically today, they no longer have to be responsible for themselves, and rely on Mom and Dad for another 5-8 years. Previously at 22 we were married and planning our family and livelihoods. The delay to adulthood is harming our society.

    As to this, how could anyone sign for loans when they don’t understand the repayment terms? A millennial told me he said he never learned anything about banking, checks, credit or living on his own in high school. Maybe this is a lesson in hard knocks but don’t expect others to pay for your college loans.

    There too, typical of our government, rather than find the root of the problem (addressing why college costs have skyrocketed well beyond inflation) so people can have a choice, they simply want to pacify the loudest voice in the room and tax Americans to pay for whatever the whine is without questions being asked.

  8. So this article near the beginning states
    Dan Agabiti, 28, is a Rhode Island native who wanted the experience of attending college away from home. He enrolled as an out-of-state student at the University of Connecticut against the counsel of friends and family who warned him it would cost too much.
    Notice the words “He Wanted” instead of “He Needed”
    There is a huge difference in life for what we need vs what we want.

    When You want to go to college do you not think about a major, look up what that job pays and then decide if its a viable career that will allow for you to have what you want verses what you need?

    You apply to a college (you should know what it costs when applying)
    You get accepted into said college.
    You get financial aid (you know what you will owe)
    You take a major (that is employable)
    You pay back the amount you agreed to pay back

    This is no different than buying to much stuff on a credit card and not being able to pay it off. Should credit card debt be a crisis?
    No nor should this

    Get a degree in something employable like a Nurse, you can make 30-40 and hour after a 2 years degree and then work while you get your BSN or MSN and in most cases your employer will pay for it.

    1. Hi Andre, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

    2. Hi Andre, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

  9. If we can forgive college debt. Can we also forgive mortgage debt. I chose not to complete college. I don’t have that massive debt. But I did but my house right before the 2008 collapse. Can the gov’t pay off my house since I got screwed and all these years later have no equity in my home cause I live in stagnant economy Conn.

  10. This important point finally appeared near the end of the article: “He also said young people often don’t know why they are going to college, but feel pressured to do so when they may be better off in a field that does not require a college degree.”
    For many people, going to college is a waste of time and money. And that’s not just the opportunity cost. Many will drop out, or be unable to complete the requirements, even with extra years of study. Others will effectively complete their high school educations, however the remedial classes are designated. That doesn’t provide marketable skills.
    Still, there is one advantage for a lot of people: Many employers now mandate college degrees for work that doesn’t require specialized instruction. That’s likely because high school’s reputation has been diminished. Completing college does show an ability to accomplish tasks
    So if you want to decrease college debt, increase the value of a high school diploma.

  11. Point #1: Free College education for everyone devalues the financial benefit of a college education.

    Point #2: Many ‘blue collar’ or trades careers offer a terrific financial benefit.

    College is not for everyone.

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