Five Things College Students Should Worry About Next Fall

It’s the time of year for high school seniors to prep for entering the real world. For many, it means wrapping up classes, choosing a college, and getting ready to go off to school in the fall.

As you know, college ain’t cheap. Here are the top five things new and returning students—and their wallets—should worry about in the fall.

1) Double Trouble
If Congress doesn’t step in, interest rates on subsidized federal Stafford loans are set to double on July 1st, from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Student borrowers narrowly averted the hike in 2012; if it goes through this year, it could add up to $5,000 to students’ loan costs over the course of repayment. (Campus Progress is pushing for student loan refinancing, one way to fix hefty interest rates.)

2) Austere Budgets Put the Squeeze on Students
For higher education, the political winds are stormy as Washington grapples with a conservative movement that doesn’t believe college—or maybe anything—should be a shared expense, funded together by taxpayers through federal and state governments. They would rather let you sink or swim on your own.

Recent highlights: 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s much-heralded budget plan would whittle away the value of Pell Grants to low-income students; all 45 Senate Republicans recently voted against easing student loan payment terms and distributing billions of dollars to American colleges; and last month, an Oklahoma lawmaker claimed “it is not our job to see that anyone gets an education” and advocated cutting Oklahoma Promise, a state scholarship program for low-income students.

3) The Sequester
While those threats to college funding have been stymied for now, the austerity-lovers can claim at least one success. The across-the-board federal budget cuts known as the sequester took a bite out of programs students care about, including $86 million for work-study jobs, new fees for student loans, and cuts to scientific research funds for universities.

4) College is Expensive, and a Struggling Economy Isn’t Helping
The cost of attending a public university, adjusted for inflation, has more than doubled since 1988. And with the recession ravaging state budgets, funding for public schools has been cut by an average of 28 percent since 2008.

It has increased the strain on students. “The steadily and rapidly increasing cost of college nationwide prompted a dramatic rise in student borrowing—a natural result as families could no longer rely on scholarships, grants, and personal savings,” according to a report released last year by Campus Progress and the Center for American Progress.

5) Being a Graduate is Tough, too
Once you have that degree you’ll have to try to put it to work (especially if you have loans to repay), and American college graduates are struggling. About half are working in professions outside their field of study, and some are even working for minimum wage.

At least some of the scarcity can be chalked up to the recent recession, but there are also troubling signs that the shortage of college-level jobs is structural: in the next decade, we’ll see twice as many new college graduates as new jobs that use their skills. How’s that for the real world?

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