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A Growing Problem With WV Student Loan Debt

Student loan debt is an increasing problem for many. Courtesy: Federal Department of Veterans Affairs
Student loan debt is an increasing problem for many. Courtesy: Federal Department of Veterans Affairs
November 9, 2015

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Student loan debt in the state is high and rising and it's a real problem for some. An annual survey by the Institute for College Access & Success found that last year's West Virginia grads who took out loans left school owing more than $27,000.

The national figure is nearly $30,000, and both numbers are going up. Amanda Montalvo from Williamsburg says she couldn't afford student loans for her first year at George Mason University, so her parents took out a second mortgage. Now they can't afford the payments and are selling their home.

"And we are going to be moving into something we can afford that's smaller, because we did have to take out that home equity loan," says Montalvo.

Economists say that college is worth going into debt for, because it means a lifetime of higher earnings. But for some, the interest piles up so fast that may no longer be true.

Meghan Blydenburgh graduated in 1999, but stopped paying her loans for a few years while she was out of work and having children. Her $28,000 debt ballooned to $63,000.

She says between her and her husband, they pay a grand a month, so much it's keeping them from buying a house or saving for their own children's educations.

"I'm just drowning in debt at this point," says Montalvo. "You have to choose between getting your loans paid on time or, you know, eating. I wish I didn't go to school and take on any debt because I'd be so much better off."

U.S. student loan debt now totals more than $1.3 trillion. Montalvo says she always believed she could do well by working hard and playing by the rules. But now she says educational costs are becoming such a problem, it can keep people like her from finishing school.

"I don't know if I will be able to come back next year," says Montalvo. "I'm glad I have the opportunity to be here right now but I don't know how we are going to pay for it."

According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, the state has had the fastest increase in the college going rate for high school seniors in the country.

The center traces much of that growth to the success of the Promise Scholarship, designed to pay the full educational cost at a public institution for qualified high schools students. But the center also points out that state funding for higher education has fallen by a fifth since 2008.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV