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Graduation debt, student loans dictate life choices

Posted by Chad O'Connor  May 3, 2013 11:00 AM

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[Editor's Note: Join former Global Business Hub editors Devin Cole and Meg Reilly at Lir on Boylston Street on May 9th for the "Toast the Press" event to show some #journolove]

All across the country tassels are being flipped and caps thrown as families snap pictures of beaming graduates. Three out of five of those graduates will be in debt.

Student debt is a national epidemic causing major problems for students, families, and the cities vying for human capital. This problem is most acutely felt in Boston and Cambridge, the mecca for higher education. In Greater Boston there are over 70 learning institutions (formal and innovative), over 50 rental agencies that specifically focus on the student market, cultural activities specifically targeted to people 18-25, and over 200 businesses that form payment partnerships with universities. Seems like the ideal infrastructure to foster innovation and retention among the best and the brightest - until one factors in student loans.

Greater Boston faces several problems that usually outweigh the benefits of staying - one of the highest rental and buying markets in the country ($1881 per month with a 3.1% vacancy rate); networking and activities targeted towards demographics already committed to staying, as opposed to outreach to the educational transplants; and an antagonism towards “college kids,” prohibiting them from establishing roots for their long-term professional careers and family lives.

Take fictional but archetypal Sammy Horton - a recent grad with a BS in Computer Science with a love of building apps. She graduated with the average amount of debt for her field ($20K with a variable interest rate of 7.8% from a government loan and $20K with a 5.8% interest from another banking institution). She’s lived in the dorms for all of her college career, and worked on campus as a tour guide. She participated in student groups, but nothing outside of that.

If she stays and sets up roots here, she will need to find a job that will help her repay her loans, potentially help any romantic interest pay back theirs, and find a way to support a family and her lifestyle as she chooses. With 284,000 college grads working minimum wage jobs and 37,000 of them holding advanced degrees. Sammy will have her work cut out for her. She will also need to establish a network of people she interacts with, a nightlife, friends, her relationship with Boston cuisine, and other activities that fall into her interest groups.

There's a choice to make - does she deal with the stress of the Greater Boston rental market, likely rooming with strangers in questionable living conditions, take an hourly job to pay the bills while she hunts for a career, and spend the rest of her time navigating the sea of networking events; or does she do what her friends did - fly out to CA to be paid outrageous sums of money by household name start-ups? Should she choose to fly to CA, or anywhere else for that matter, she will be a unique and hot commodity, as opposed to a dime-a-dozen Ivy League grad that gets pumped into the jobless pool every year.

What compels Sammy and her counterparts to stay are programs that allow students and professionals to mingle as equals, a cultural nightlife that is not only rich in its offerings but warm in its outreach, and a rich innovation community that supports creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit. While there’s a growing push for these elements (meet-ups, young professional networking groups, etc.) they are very fragmented or still treating the problem too late in its cycle (once the student has graduated). We need to empower her to succeed without burdening her with student loans, and reward her for staying without discriminating on where she can live and what she can do in the city.

Retaining Sammy and her generation demands outreach before she’s throwing her cap in the air. As a community, we need to make a choice - do we want to be a star-powered metropolis with a solid talent base and companies supporting innovation, or do we want to train other communities' work force?

Navah Fuchs is the co-founder of Angel Ed, a nonprofit crowd-funding platform helping students finance their education debt-free, while connecting them with mentorship, internship, and hiring opportunities. She is an active member of the Boston innovation networking circuit, working to help students, young professionals, and businesses connect and grow in meaningful ways.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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