By Lizzie Chen
For Reporting Texas and KUT News
AUSTIN — As the Occupy Movement spreads to campuses across the nation, student loan debt is becoming increasingly a target of discussion.
“We say at the university, what starts here changed the world,” yelled one protester, referring to the current University of Texas ad campaign. “I say what starts right here will change it faster!”
At Occupy Austin rallies are young people like Amanda Austin, now voicing their concern about student loans and tuition increases.
“I’m thinking I’m going to have to get an additional part time job when I actually have to start paying them off because I’m still deferring them now,” Austin said. “But once I have to start paying them off, I’m nervous and I’m going to have to do extra work, more than 40 hours a week so I can meet my bills and living expenses and pay off my loans. ”
While the national average is student loan debt is $27,000, Austin incurred about $40,000 as she earned a master’s degree in special education at Texas this past summer. About half of current UT undergraduates have taken out loans.
“I certainly think the economy is making more students and parents have to borrow more money,” said Tom Melecki, the director of Student Financial Services at the University of Texas, “because quite frankly because their family is less likely to come up with money from their pockets or their savings account to help their sons and daughter pay the cost of attendance at UT.”
Despite student loan increases, enrollment in U.S. colleges increased 38 percent between 1999 and 2009. So as more people look to school to escape the poor job market, they face the prospect student debt. At the same time, colleges and universities across the nation have endured budget cuts and tuition increases, forcing many students to work while going to school.
Nicolas Hudson, a government and philosophy major who will be graduating from UT in December, has been working 40 hours a week because he says his family can’t contribute financially.
“I think that was the promise, right? That we were going to be able to find better paying jobs when we graduate, he said. “I think that you see people growing increasingly concerned about the amount of debt they are taking on just to escape their financial circumstances or their social circumstances that they were born into.”