The United Democrats of Washington County held a panel discussion earlier this month at the Fletcher branch of the Washington County Free Library. The four Millennials from across Western Maryland in attendance cited student-loan debt as a major concern as the current political landscape becomes less and less stable.
All panelists were college students or recent college graduates and could speak from personal experience about the economic difficulties facing Millennials who choose to further their education.
Courtney Keyfauver, a student at Hagerstown Community College, discussed the burden of having to work a full time minimum-wage job to afford tuition at her community college. Though it is difficult, she believes that it is crucial to attend college in order to succeed in the job market today.
“It’s hard to find a job,” she said. “If you’re not going to college — I don’t know what you’re going to do.”
Fellow panelist Caitlin Ainge, a graduate of Hood College and staffer for U.S. Representative John Delaney, commented, “A fear that we all share is we’re leaving college, leaving high school and not being able to find work. Not being able to pay back loans that we’ve taken to get this education to help further ourselves.”
Residents of Maryland are finding that student loan debt is a problem that persists long after graduation. Matthew O’Connor, a science teacher at Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg, is still struggling to pay back the $70,000 he borrowed to attend Towson University.
O’Connor is currently pursuing a graduate degree, which is required for public school teachers in Maryland, and fears that he may have to take out another loan in the near future.
The state of Maryland is, however, taking steps to alleviate this burden for its citizens.
Lawmakers in Montgomery County have recently developed legislation to establish a loan authority, which can give the county the ability to leverage its municipal borrowing power to extend incredibly low rates to its residents. In doing so, Montgomery is helping residents refinance their student loans and thus retaining the population of graduates they have already invested in. This encourages Montgomery County citizens to stay in the area to start families and businesses and put money back into the local economy.
Tom Israel, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Association is sympathetic to the issue, stating, “It’s a huge burden on teachers. They can’t afford to even live in the county where they teach because they’re laying out so much money to pay off their loans.”
Students and graduates are not the only ones experiencing financial woes. The average U.S. household with debt has $129,579 of it total; however, today much of that comes from student loans, medical debt, credit cards, and other sources.
California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, and North Dakota have all passed similar legislation to that being proposed by Montgomery County, and if the bill passes in Maryland, it will join these states in knocking down this economic barrier.