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Student-Loan Debts a "Loss of Freedom" for Some in WV

West Virginia has the second highest rate of student loan defaults, and the average debt for graduates has grown by 70 percent since 2005. (bitnovosti)
West Virginia has the second highest rate of student loan defaults, and the average debt for graduates has grown by 70 percent since 2005. (bitnovosti)
September 10, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some West Virginians fighting student loan debt say they feel they've been given a life sentence - a debt sentence.

The state has the nation's highest rate of graduates with debt, and the second highest rate of loan defaults. Eric Engle of Parkersburg is an office worker who's kept up with payments since graduating from Marshall University. But he said he's still trapped trying to pay off more than $70,000 in loans.

He said one loan for about $10,000 has risen to $13,000, despite his paying at least $120 a month - and sometimes a lot more.

"You know, the fact that I've made almost nine years of faithful on-time payments of at least that amount, and I still owe them $3,000 more than the principal of the loan is incredibly frustrating,” Engle lamented.

According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, budget cuts for higher ed by the state Legislature have pushed public college tuition up by more than 150 percent over two decades. Lawmakers say until this year, they had faced a collapse of state revenue due to falling coal and gas production.

According to the center, the average debt carried by a college graduate in the state has increased by 70 percent since 2005. For people like Engle, that is much more than just a statistic.

Engle said he was always told that borrowing for college was an investment in the American dream. But now he and his fiancee - also a college graduate with a white collar job and student loans - and their two children are struggling to get by.

"For $600 a month to live in an apartment that's not even big enough for us, and one car, when really we definitely need two; we don't want to rent anymore,” he said. “We want to build some equity. We want to have some ownership. And we don't have a prayer right now of getting a mortgage."

Engle said it looks like he's going to be making payments for as long as he can foresee into the future. He described it as a genuine loss of freedom.

More information on financial aid for higher education in West Virginia is available here.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV