PURCHASE, NY - Gabrielle Fletcher holds a semester bill in one hand and her head in the other.
With only a year left before graduating SUNY Purchase, her future is looking bleak and her story speaks is similar to many other Westchester County students facing hard times.
Local students tightening their budgets in the wake of the financial crisis are finding it hard to pay back student loans and harder to find qualified jobs to pay them. According to the American Student Assistance Organization, the average debt for students borrowing loans rose 18 percent, from $19,300 in 2001 to $22,700 in 2007 and keeps moving up.
“I just broke down and cried,” she said in regards to discovering an astronomical student loan bill last week, “when my Dad sat me down and told me I would be paying $300 out of pocket per month for the next ten years, I saw my future disappear before my eyes.”
Fletcher's mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and was fired in the midst of receiving chemotherapy. Fletcher realized she will now be paying for her student loans out of her own pocket right after graduation.
Although she has had a job in retail for five years, her situation is now very limited.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for graduates under 25 in the United States increased from 5.4 percent in 2007 to 9.3 in 2009. Also one-third of graduates end up taking jobs that don't require a college degree.
“I have had a job since the day I turned 16,” she says, “I think it's ridiculous that my qualifications are not going to reward me with the college-level job I earned.”
Her plans to pursue graduate school at Pace University are on hold and her aspirations to get into her field of publishing are looking slim. She says she currently cannot afford to take an unpaid internship that would allow her to break into her field.