Column: Look beyond the island of college

Chapel Hill can sometimes feel like an island. Untouched by real world problems — even ones like hurricanes — it is a bubble.

But fewer class sections and crowded auditoriums have come to show that the bubble might have finally burst — and that budget cuts are, in fact, real.

Thanks to Washington’s 11th hour debt deal, graduate students will no longer be able to receive federally subsidized loans, beginning July of next year.

This means that before the first cap drops on graduation day, graduate students will be charged interest on their loans.
Before, students had a six-month grace period before they had to pay any interest. Kind of a party pooper, isn’t it?

This single move will increase costs for graduate students by about $18.1 billion during the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

So those of you who were considering graduate school as a place to hide from your debt and the bleak job market can think again.

The outlook is especially grim for students who spend years getting their degrees, like law and medical students. Those in MBA programs, which usually last no more than two years, won’t have it as hard.

Paying your loans back on time won’t help you, either. Students who paid loans on time for 12-months straight used to be up for a rebate. But the debt deal took that, too.

Undergraduates can rest easy, though. Squandering our TA’s dreams helped our government save funding for the Pell Grant program, which provides low-income students enrolled in college need-based grants up to $5,500.

At least for the next two years, that is.

In 2009, more than 3,000 UNC students received the grant. As the Durham Herald-Sun reported earlier this year, Pell Grant recipients make up more than 18 percent of UNC’s student body.

In our congressional district, which includes Durham, Orange, and parts of Wake and Chatham counties, more than 27,000 students take advantage of the grant. While graduate students suffer, this grant should save undergraduates about $21 billion in the next decade.
I guess it’s all about give and take.

Though they’ve skirted much of the damage, undergraduates still have little reason to celebrate. While the grants help many afford four years of college, it would be silly to ignore what we’re all walking into: a lackluster job market and an unaffordable graduate education.

That market has placed only half of recent college graduates in jobs that require a degree.

Meanwhile, only 56 percent of 2010 graduates could say they held a job one year after graduating, according to a recent Rutgers University study.

As we enjoy however much time we have left lounging in the quad, let’s not forget that there’s a real world stretching far beyond Franklin Street.

The decisions made for us in Washington affect all of us, from the freshmen on South Campus to the seniors like me, who have 10 months until graduation boots us off the island.

Thanks for reading.

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