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SLAP brings awareness to student loan debt

By Dave Carriere
On March 2, 2012

A giant wall stood outside the Student Union Thursday on which students walking by were urged to write the amount of student loan debt that they owe or expect to owe after they graduate.

"Come sign the wall of student debt," organizers shouted through a megaphone to passers-by. "Education is a right, not a commodity."

The wall was part of a demonstration put together by the Student Labor Action Project and the Students for a Democratic Society at UCF, who were joined by the College Democrats as well as Occupy UCF.

The student groups put on the demonstration for the National Student Debt Day of Action to help students, faculty and administrators visualize the mounting debt that many UCF students will be facing after they finish school.

SLAP media coordinator Becky Merola is a senior majoring in advertising and public relations at UCF who currently owes about $15,000 in student loans herself. She said the demonstration was primarily to inform students about how to avoid or get out of student loan debt, as well as to raise students' awareness about rising tuition costs and education cuts.

"The cost of education keeps rising," she said, "But they're not raising the value of our education. It's costing more and more to go to school and we're getting less out of it."

By the end of the day, 115 students had signed the wall with their expected loan debts ranging from several hundred dollars to $100,000.

Demonstration organizers counted a little more than $2.3 million total on the wall, making the average about $20,000 per student.

The average student loan debt on the wall is still lower than the national, average which is about $22,900 for the graduating class of 2011, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Downing, a junior studying history at UCF wrote $50,000 on the wall, but said his debt might reach close to $100,000 if he decides to go through with his plan to go to law school.

He said his debt is so high because he made the mistake of getting his loans through a private lending institution.

"I was uninformed about getting a loan in the beginning," he said. "I've learned since."

Downing said he tries not to worry too much about it because he sees a lot of students give up before they even graduate because of their student debt, and after he gets his law degree he plans on becoming an entertainment lawyer and paying off his loans quickly.

For some, the thought of the job market after graduation can be just as nerve-racking as their student loan debt.

Xenecia Farrell, a freshman and a former engineering student whose major is now undeclared, expects to pay more than $20,000 after graduation. She said she doesn't want her family to have to pay for her tuition debt, but she's concerned with not being able to find a job right away after graduating.

"[I'm] definitely worried about it," Farrell said. " I'm trying to save now so I can deal with it then."

The demonstration lasted from 10 a.m. to about 3 p.m. It featured speakers Curtis Hierro, student member of SDS, and Jay Jurie, associate professor at the UCF School of Public Administration.

Jurie said he tried to put the students' demonstration into context by speaking about a wide range of economic issues and cuts to public and higher education.

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