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03.10.10

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Phaedra

Photograph by Curtis Cartier
FUTURE IMPERFECT: Students at the March 4 campus protest posed the obvious questions

After the March

On the other side of graduation, students face mounting debt and few jobs

By Curtis Cartier


MATTHEW MOORE didn't carry a sign at last week's student protest at UCSC. With a walking stick in one hand and his dog's leash in the other, he stood in a grassy field near the university entrance at High and Bay streets and watched while hundreds of his fellow students demanded the university lower its fees and restaff its departments.

Yet even if he had brought a sign or joined the march, and even if the organized protests around the nation had succeeded in reaffirming the nation's commitment to higher education and reversing the UC system's 32 percent tuition hike, it wouldn't have changed a central fact of Moore's life. Like millions of other college students around the country, he's already deep in debt and facing a brutal job market when he graduates.

"It's pretty bleak, that's for sure," says the history of consciousness doctoral student, who says he'll graduate with around $45,000 in debt despite his job as a teacher's assistant and several grants. "I have friends that are eighty and ninety thousand in debt, so I feel a little lucky in that respect. The job market, though, that's really not looking good."

According to the Institute for College Access & Success, a Berkeley research firm, the average amount of debt held by graduating seniors in the United States has increased by 6 percent each year since 2004. In 2008 it was $23,200 per graduate on average, about $16,000 at UCSC. And the jobs to fund those loan repayments? In December, the unemployment rate among recent college grads was 10.6 percent—worse than the national jobless average of 9.7 percent.

Matt Reed, the ICAS program director, says this translates to a dim future for students who were sold the idea of purchasing an education as the best way toward a brighter future.

"In general, costs of attending college have been going up much faster than inflation. Grant aid hasn't kept up with that. Loans have been filling the gap," says Reed. "The costs are not just tuition; you have to pay for books, transportation, room and board. There are a lot of odds stacked against students these days."


The 20-Year Plan

In this "Great Recession," graduates who do find work often settle for low-paying jobs that have little to do with their freshly completed educations. Juliane De Grazia graduated from UCSC in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and two different loans that left her roughly $30,000 in debt. She now works 40 hours per week selling designer clothes at Pacific Trading Company in downtown Santa Cruz. She pays $290 per month toward her loans and will for the next 20 years.

"It's frustrating, depressing, annoying, pathetic—whatever you want to call it," says De Grazia. "I went through all of this, graduated with a 3.9 [grade point average] and now I'm barely making over minimum wage doing something I could do when I was 16. I don't regret going to college. I just wish I hadn't rushed into a UC and instead looked at some other opportunities, like going to a community college."

Even students with advanced graduate degrees are finding it difficult to find meaningful work. Greg Ingraham, a UC-Riverside graduate with a master's degree in archival management and a candidate for the much-ballyhooed position of Grateful Dead archivist at UCSC, currently works the graveyard shift as a room service attendant at a San Mateo Westin Hotel. Even that job took three months to land and plenty of rejection along the way.

"There were a lot of times I didn't list my graduate degree," says Ingraham. "If I put it down, people would think I was overqualified and be like, 'What are you doing here?' The fact is, after an undergrad degree and a master's, I'm in the same kind of job I went to school to get away from."

"In the end I'll probably go back to grad school," says De Grazia. "I'll rack up more debt, but I'm not getting anywhere doing what I'm doing."


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