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An Article about Student Debt

January 9, 2012

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

I have just finished an article on student debt whose lead reads:

Faculty members and administrators know on some level that their students are being saddled with lifelong student debt, but little is being done collectively across academe to deal with that embarrassing fact.

The piece will be published this week in Inside Higher Ed and likely will cause a stir because many institutions, including my own, are graduating students with ever higher debt—more than $30,000 at Iowa State University.

Student debt is an ignominy with the amount owed now approaching $1 trillion, more than the entire credit card debt in this country. Recently ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer aired a report on the crisis, noting that graduates are being forced because of rising bills to live with their parents.

This is a potentially devastating reality for departments and schools of journalism.

Perhaps our situation in Iowa will help illuminate yours.

My article encourages administrators to imagine themselves as a new graduate with average debt from their institution, renting an apartment and trying to live independently while taking into account the cost of that living versus the average starting salary for the degree. (To come up with figures, I provide calculators for adjusted gross salary and student loan repayment.)

On average in my state a graduate with $30,000 debt will have to pay between $2,500-$3,000 per month for living expenses in Iowa (assuming their employers also cover medical insurance). That requires an income after taxes and Social Security of $26,000-$36,000 per year. Alas, the average salary for a journalist here is $26,466 with a beginning salary of $21,796.

Journalism staffs at major outlets have been downsized significantly for several years now. There is even a “Newspaper Death Watch” site on the topic. However, community newspapers in Iowa and other states are doing reasonably well, focusing on hyper-localism. They get many applicants for openings but still cannot pay high starting salaries because the economy in rural towns and small cities continues to lack the advertising base for metro-equivalent salaries.

If journalism programs fail to act collectively to reduce student debt, we will be contributing to a slow death by default rather than attrition.

Watch for my article. It has recommendations for what we can do now to ease student debt.

ASJMC can take the lead in combating this personal and professional crisis.

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