Rising interest rates keep students in the red

When Zack Johnson decided he wanted to go to the U, he knew he would have to pay his tuition with student loans.

“I had no other way to pay, and it would be too much of a waste to put it off until later in life,” the sophomore in biology said.

However, as tuition costs and interest rates rise, the likelihood that Johnson and other students will be able to pay off their loans before school ends decreases.

On July 1, interest rates on current student loans rose 1.84 percent, and new loan rates increased to 6.8 percent from the previous 5.3 percent.

Student debt is already at an all-time high in Utah, and these increases likely will not help existing or future students to pay off their loans.

“Luckily, I can pay for some myself,” Johnson said. “But there’s no way I can pay it off completely and still save for next year.”

About two-thirds of students at four-year colleges have student debt, according to the national Project on Student Debt, and the number of student loans through the Utah’s Higher Education Assistance Authority continues to increase. In the past 10 years, the number of loans processed has increased by more than 85 percent.

David Feitz, associate executive director of the Utah Higher Education Authority, attributes the increase in loans to tuition hikes. At the U, tuition and fees have increased by more than 60 percent in the last ten years.

Johnson said that by the time his loans are paid off, he will have paid almost as much in interest as he did for the actual loans. His first year at the U cost him approximately $7,000, and he is hoping that the following years will be less expensive.

“There’s some growing trends that, because of the costs, people have to look at what is the major that’s going to help me pay this back, which is not especially good for society,” Feitz said.

Feitz said that those who are going into less prosperous careers, like elementary education, are more likely to have problems paying off their loans.

“Those borrowers are the ones we have concerns about,” he said.

Meanwhile, grants that help students pay for tuition have not increased. The federal Pell Grant’s maximum of $4,050 per year has not increased in the past four years. The amount only makes a dent in tuition costs, Feitz said, and forces more students to turn to loans.

John Curl, financial aid director at the U, said he encourages students to consolidate their student loans. Consolidating student loans and keeping the current 6.8 percent interest rate could save students almost $5,000 in interest payments with a $20,000 loan, he said.

But, even with consolidation, students continue to struggle to pay for school.

“Someone should take more control to put a cap on how much interest (rates) and tuition can go up every year,” Johnson said. “I definitely don’t like seeing costs go up.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Jamison Brogdon