New Hampshire Public Radio recently reported that the annual Project on Student Debt published of all schools in New Hampshire, which ranked as the number one state with the highest student debt, Keene State College graduates had the largest debt in the state, an average of $38,971 in 2015.
Tuition including mandatory fees at KSC costs students who live in state $13,613 annually. According to an online public factbook published by the college, of the 4,383 part-time and full-time undergraduate and graduate students in the 2014-2015 catalog year, 3,678 students received some type of student loan.
Among these 3,678 students, the amount of loans totals $48,817,246, which accounts for federal, state, institutional and private student loans.
This means a whopping 84 percent of students take out some form of student loan at Keene State College.
Student debt can be so financially draining that college graduates cannot physically pay them.
Their further options are limited. One choice, according to Student Loan Borrower Assistance (SLBA), is to spend money finding a lawyer who can attest in court that the defendant cannot afford students loans, even while having a minimal standard of living while also proving unwarranted hardships such as permanent or temporary disability.
SLBA explains the process as a difficult route, but not an impossible one.
Graduates can also file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which establishes a plan to reduce or delay repayment to creditor’s overtime, from future income.
According to Joshua Cohen of “The Student Loan Lawyer” this type of exemption from student loans could last between three to five years.
Bankruptcy Find Law suggests alumni who can no longer afford their debts delay their payments through a forbearance or deferment program.
This allows them to take a year off, for example, to find better work or work out other financial obligations. Interest however, is accrued during this period.
Twenty-three-year-old Hayden Gunnell wakes up every weekday at 8 a.m. in his mother’s apartment and gets ready to work his nine to five at the Keene Target.
Checking out at Target, you’d never know it, but Gunnell graduated from Keene State College with a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in May 2015.
Yet, he faces the same harsh reality that 60 percent of graduated students in the U.S. experience every year — a degree and no job in their field, according to job placement firm Adecco.
The Target employee not only works a job completely unrelated to his degree, but he is among the 84 percent of graduates living with student debt. His debt totals nearly $5,000.
His full-time job at Target pays for his necessities, like food and rent, but also contributes to paying back his student loans. Making only $11 an hour stocking shelves however, doesn’t leave him much room for personal spending, burdening him to ride around in his Toyota Prius as an Uber driver in Manchester N.H. for extra money.
Gunnell graduated from Keene High School in 2011. In efforts to save money, he attended River Valley Community College in his city for two years to get his general education courses out of the way.
The cost to attend River Valley was almost free to him, given the original cost at River Valley is $6,400 yearly after receiving a good chunk of financial aid. He only receives financial support from his mother, who works as an assistant at Keene High School, causing him to receive more financial aid than a student with two parents contributing incomes.
When Gunnell transferred to Keene State College, the bills started increasing and the need to take out loans was necessary in order for him to attend.
Even though he received scholarships, he had to take out three different government issued, unsubsidized loans from Nelnet, a financial service company, to cover the cost, totaling about $5,000 including interest, which he said was around three percent. Interest rates for most college students however, can reach as high as eight to 10 percent.
Thus far, he has paid off $1,844. His current balance on Nelnet is $3,158.
After graduation, Gunnell originally was paying $500 a month on his student loan, but now he says he has reduced his payments to $200 monthly to help lower the financial burden.
Paying back student loans is something easygoing Gunnell was prepared for. What he wasn’t prepared for was not being able to find any work.
Since February 2016, he has been applying for jobs as a State Police officer. He met with a local commander and started physically training for the job.
The only problem with working with the State Police was the only troop area looking for officers was up north in towns so small the state police also worked as local law enforcement as well.
“I was looking to work in the Manchester-Concord area, a distance from Keene and in a more civilized area. Since that wasn’t an option, I wasn’t trying to live stranded up north with nothing to do and that was my only option, so state police just wasn’t in my cards,” Gunnell confessed.
In June 2016, he took the written Great Bay Community College Police Testing examination which put him on the employment eligibility list for other police departments to look at. Once they received his score, they could then invite him to take a physical test and later, an interview.
Gunnell heard back from a few departments and was interviewed for town law enforcement such as Plaistow, Dover, Keene and Rochester. None of the towns he was interviewed by selected him.
“I talked to other people who got jobs in law enforcement and they had experience working in corrections for instance, but had no degree. I didn’t have much experience or a crazy resume, but I did have a degree, which apparently didn’t help me,” Gunnell said.
Hayden Gunnell’s future is unknown. He is looking to move out of the Cheshire County and find other work within the field of his degree.
The mellow, coffee enthusiast sighed and said in his soft voice, “I want to die because right now I am basically working to pay off my debt. I cannot move somewhere and pay for an apartment with the debt I am paying off right now and I don’t have a career and don’t make real money.”
He recently applied at Cheshire Corrections as a security guard for Hunter Morris, but still hasn’t heard back.
Running tired, dry and thin of new ideas, Gunnell as of November 2016 found a job working as a security officer at the Brattleboro Retreat, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Vermont.
Twenty-six-year-old Swanzey N.H. native Jordan Volikas was more fortunate than some of his successors. He found a secure job right after college.
Volikas graduated from Keene State College in May 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a business management minor, which he said allowed him to take basically any financing job.
After graduation, Volikas took a job in Chesterfield working for United Foods INC, which he explained led him to his currently job at the Monadnock Community Hospital where he works as a staff accountant.
Volikas said once he got this job, he was confident it would pay for his student debts.
During his time at KSC, he worked and saved money.
He lived at home and commuted his first and sophomore year to save even more.
He also worked two jobs through the school, working a student hourly job for an exact wage in the school mail room and in the Rhodes Hall lab room.
Volikas received financial aid, a couple of scholarships and had parental contributions to help pay for tuition throughout his college career.
His father works as a machinist and his mother as a Keene school district coordinator.
Volikas graduated college with a total debt of about $25,000.
Thus far, he has paid off nearly $15,000, yet within the next few years he will need to come up with the remaining $10,000 still owed.
He has no plan to defer his loans, he said, because they are built into his monthly budget. He calculated payments to be finished within a couple more years.
Luckily, his loans aren’t making a huge impact on his future, for example, causing a hindrance from him starting a family.
“Without loans, life would be different. I don’t know exactly how different, but of course I’m looking forward to the day I no longer have this debt,” Volikas said.
Volikas commented that on a positive note, he fortunately receives a tax credit from the loans.
“In a way, you can use it to build credit and you do get a tax break when you pay interest so it has its ups and downs,” Volikas said.
Volikas adjusted his tie and commented, “Tuition rates are too high, but for me it’s just kind of what I needed to do, it was part of the college experience that I had to accept. As far as paying it down, it is just something I have to live with.”
Thirty-year-old Keene Sentinel Reporter Meghan Foley takes out her little reporter’s notebook. She confidently reads the exact number she still owes on her student loan as of May 2008– just over $17,000.
The Ipswich, Massachusetts, resident chose to attend Keene State College after high school in the fall of 2004 for writing.
She graduated from KSC in 2008 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a minor in Political Science.
She started applying for jobs in February of her senior year and by mid-June received a job offer with a newspaper in North Adams, Massachusetts, where she worked for four years, until the local newspaper shut down.
For the next year, she worked independently as a town reporter before returning to Keene, New Hampshire, where she currently calls home.
During Foley’s time at Keene State, she lived on campus all four years.
She had a work study at the college and on breaks would go home and work at her local Market Basket.
Aside from her parents refinancing their house, receiving scholarships and financial aid, she was still forced to receive assistance from both subsidized and unsubsidized government-issued Stafford loans.
Foley chose to help reduce her loan payments through consolidation.
Not knowing loan consolidation was an option, she was paying a variable interest rate on one loan and a fixed interest rate on the other.
In 2010, she decided to consolidate her loan to make payments easier and to lower her interest rate that could have potentially increased.
Now instead of paying $200 a month, she pays $130.
Foley said she should be finished paying off her loan by 2025, which she said could have been done by 2018 had she consolidated the loan right after college.
The journalist has been working a second job at a local grocery store for three years, in addition to her job reporting for the Keene Sentinel.
She commented that she lives “modestly,” her debt not being troublesome, but somewhat difficult for her.
“I like journalism and I’m content right now. As I get older, I think one of my hopes is to maybe be a little more financially stable. How it will happen I haven’t figured out yet,” Foley said.
Since graduation, she has opened a credit card, as well as added a car loan to her finances, which she has already paid off.
“I have known people with upwards of much more than that $20,000 plus in loans. I worked with someone who claimed $80,000 in loans who’s stuck eating ramen. I just consider myself lucky.”
Loan Consolidation– “The combining of several unsecured debts into a single, new loan that is more favorable,” from Investopedia.com
Fixed Interest Rate – “A fixed interest rate is an interest rate on a liability, such as a loan, that remains the same either for the entire term of the loan or for part of the term,” from Investopedia.com.
Variable Interest Rate – “A variable interest rate is an interest rate on a loan that fluctuates over time, because it is based on an underlying benchmark interest rate or index that changes periodically,” from Investopedia.com.
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy – “A chapter 13 bankruptcy is also called a wage earner’s plan. It enables individuals with regular income to develop a plan to repay all or part of their debts. Under this chapter, debtors propose a repayment plan to make installments to creditors over three to five years,” from uscourts.gov.
Loan Forbearance – “Forbearance is a period during which your monthly loan payments are temporarily suspended or reduced. Payments on your loan principal are postponed, but interest will accrue during the forbearance period,” from Navient.
Subsidized Loan – “A type of loan does not require the borrower to pay interest but rather has the interest paid by a third party,” from businessdictionary.com.
Unsubsidized Loan – “Direct Unsubsidized Loans are loans made to eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, but in this case, the student does not have to demonstrate financial need to be eligible for the loan,” from thebalance.com
Alexandra Enayat can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org