partly driven by the enrollment numbers at
Western Michigan University with a degree in is so boring, and there's nothing hard to do. Undergrad
community colleges. Their report on com-
computer science, but he does plan on getting didn't prepare me to be a worker bee."
munity colleges says that "enrollments have
a graduate degree in the future.
Lockyer doubts the value of her degree. "Well, I'm not
long been considered somewhat countercycli-
"Seeing that undergrad gave me a financial
getting a chance to apply it, so what is the value? I got a
cal; that is, they tend to rise as the economy
burden of $31,000 worth of loans to pay off,
job as a conflicts researcher at a law firm], so I guess
worsens" because of their more manageable
it seemed fiscally irresponsible to go straight
it's worth something, but to be in debt for another 10
to grad school," he said. "I also wanted to see
years? I don't know. And I was lucky, I had a tuition
Dr. Jam es
Dr. James Sawyer, vice president and
what the industry was like before deciding to
scholarship, but I still have some loans to pay back."
provost of the learning unit at Macomb
move forward with a graduate degree in the
Looking to the future, Lockyer said, "I'm putting
Community College, said the college has
away money to get some certifications without having
Both Ellentuck and Katcoff said that they
seen a "recent uptick in what I would call the
to go to grad school. I'm trying to think creatively and
more skilled trades-related programs, but I think that's
needed a graduate degree to hold a meaningful position really penny-pinch now and think ahead. It'd be easier
driven more by demand than issues regarding student
in their respective fields, but the same is not true for
if I was making more, but I'm doing what I can. I knew
loans and affordability — there's just a greater need in
it would be hard, but I didn't know it would be this
the industry for these types of folks at the moment."
"I'm fairly lucky in that I went into a field that has a
He added, "When you start talking about student
high demand right now?' he said. "When I started look-
THE SCOOP ON STUDENT LOANS
loans, that's an issue for us as well, but community
ing for jobs, I found there were plenty of opportunities
colleges are great schools for kids worried about loans
for me despite not having industry experience."
Early this month, Congress allowed student loan rates
because we are cheaper than the typical four-year
Regarding the value of his undergraduate experience,
to double. As of press time, the Senate was able to
Atkinson said, "It's tough to say if it was worth it. The
reach a long-awaited deal. According to the proposal,
experience of going to college itself was good for me. I
students will have lower interest rates through the 2015
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR STUDENTS?
grew a lot as a person, and I learned a lot in classes. At
academic year and then things will change: Interest
Four local bachelor-degree holders — two who decided
the same time, that's a lot of money, and a lot
rates will be linked to the markets, but there
to pursue a graduate degree and two who decided
of the stuff I learned I could have learned on
will be caps holding rates from climbing
against it for the time being — offer their thoughts.
above 8.25 percent for undergraduates, 9.5
Rachel Ellentuck, 22, of West Bloomfield gradu-
"But most companies these days are looking
percent for graduates, and 10.5 percent for
ated from Michigan State University this past spring
for a four-year degree, so because of that I feel I
with a degree in social work and will be attending the
wouldn't have had the opportunities to get the
But what does that all mean?
University of Michigan School of Social Work in the fall jobs I wanted if I hadn't gone to college."
Kelli Saperstein, 34, of Detroit, who
to pursue her master's degree.
Another Brandeis grad, Fiona Lockyer of
works as a wealth adviser at Telemus
"I had a huge debate about deciding whether or not
Philadelphia, decided she did not want to
Capital, shed some light on student loans.
to go to grad school," she said. "Obviously, I want to get
attend grad school after graduating from
She offered a plan of attack for students
Brandeis as a politics major and environmental Kelli S apersteln considering taking out loans: Look for
a good job, but I just wondered if it would be worth it.
"At the end of the day, I decided to get a higher
science and French double-minor. Like Atkin-
scholarships, grants and work-study options
degree so I can ultimately get the job I want — which
son, she wanted to gain more work experience
first, then consider taking out a loan from a
before investing in another degree.
family member, then look into federal loans and, finally,
is to work as a therapist. There were a lot of entry-level
positions, but I know I'll want to do more and work in
"But then I graduated from Brandeis and looked for
consider private loans.
different positions and not be limited."
jobs and saw how awful it was to find a job, and real-
"As you go through the process, you need to have an
ized I could never afford to get a graduate degree," she
Ellentuck said she was "incredibly lucky" because she
action plan for how you think you'll pay it off," she said.
did not take on any debt for her undergraduate studies.
"You need to have your arms around this before you
"My parents gave me the Michigan Education Trust
She expressed discontent with her post-graduate sit-
start taking out the loans — you can't have the opinion
uation, saying, "I don't have a problem with my degree,
Fund program, so I didn't owe anything?' she said. "But
that you'll just deal with it in four years. It's better to be
for grad school, I am definitely taking out loans. I will
but I do have a problem with how far up the ladder I'll
educated and have a plan and then be in a better situa-
owe at least $33,000 for my master's, which I don't
have to go before I can start using my brain. Entry-level tion when you get out of school."
like, of course, but I have to do it for the job I want."
Saperstein emphasized the importance of being real-
The other student who will be attending graduate
istic when it comes to figuring out if you will actually be
school is Hannah Katcoff, 23, of West Orange, N.J. The
able to pay off your loans.
Brandeis University grad double-majored in economics
"Make sure you consider the potential future earn-
and health: science, society and policy. Katcoff currently
ings you'll get in return for the education you will
attends the U-M School of Public Health and is pursu-
receive, and be honest and serious with yourself about
ing her master's degree in public health/epidemiology.
how long it will take to pay it back," she said.
She said a main reason why she is attending grad
And once you graduate and need to start paying off
school is her program is an applied program, meaning
the loans, Saperstein suggested a few ways to make the
it's very skill-based. "I didn't have the skills I needed to
succeed in the field when I graduated from undergrad,
"First, look at all the types of loans you have, get
so I needed to learn them," she said.
a sense of the interest rates, and immediately set up
Does that mean she did not find her undergraduate
automatic payment for the loans to come from your
bank account?' she advised. "If you set up automatic
"I thought undergrad was really valuable because I
payments, that can lower your interest rate sometimes,
had no idea what I wanted to do when I first started at
and also you know that your payments will be on time
Brandeis," she said. "When I graduated, I had a much
— it's just easier.
better idea of what I wanted, so now I'm going to grad
"You need to be aware; you need to take things into
school to further my knowledge and develop those skills
your own hands and be knowledgeable. Loans are a
I discovered I needed."
fact of life, and many people have student loans. You're
Like Ellentuck, Katcoff earned her bachelor's degree
investing in yourself and in your education, so be smart
without accruing any debt. "I was incredibly fortunate
about it and do your homework?'
my parents paid for my undergraduate education," she
THE BOTTOM LINE
said. She declined to say the amount of loans she was
taking out for her master's. "I think eventually getting
The bottom line is that there is no bottom line. The an-
my master's will be worth it, and I'll have to be frugal
swer to the question of "is college worth it?" is different
in my first years out of school. I think a good reason for
for each individual.
going to grad school is to increase potential earnings, so
Some go into undergrad knowing exactly what they
I'll be making more money, hopefully."
want to study and what they want to do with their lives,
Ellentuck and Katcoff see the benefit of earning a
but others go into college wanting to figure something
higher degree because of the potential to get a higher-
out about themselves. If you're considering taking out
paying job. But what about those students who decide
loans to further your education, you need to ask: How
paying the extra money and taking the extra time to get
valuable will this education be and do I think it will be
a higher degree is not worth it, either just for the time
being or for good?
The bottom line? Only you can answer that question,
Chris Atkinson, 23, of Detroit, made the choice to
and there are no wrong answers. RT
not go to grad school directly after graduating from
undergrad gave me
a financial burden
of $31,000 worth
of loans to pay off,
it seemed fiscally
go straight to grad
RED THREAD I
August 2013 41