Georgians wrestle with student loan debt

Student loan debt has doubled since 2007 to more than $1 trillion. That financial load has been blamed for stifling economic growth as borrowers use more of their incomes to repay debt instead of spending it in other areas.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order last week to ease the burden of millions of people, including 59 percent of those Georgians strapped with student debt. His plan expands a program for recent borrowers that caps monthly student loan payments at 10 percent of a borrower’s income. Under Obama’s order, the cap extends to people who borrowed before 2007. The White House estimates an additional 5 million people — including 183,000 Georgians — will benefit from the expansion. But officials could not say how much it will cost taxpayers.

Another proposal to allow millions of borrowers to refinance student loans was blocked last week in the Senate.

Student debt in Georgia

A closer look shows the average student loan debt for Georgia residents in 2012 was $23,089. The national average is more than $29,400.

When compared with other states, Georgia’s average debt is low — 37th in the nation — and so is its average tuition of $7,823 at public four-year colleges last year, ranking 31st nationwide.

Opportunities lost:

"My biggest concern is the opportunity cost. There are a lot of young people who are missing out on an opportunity (to attend college) because they can't afford it. I"m a first-generation college graduate, and I think my life is better because of it. It's the lost opportunities that I'm concerned about. — Bud Peterson, president, Georgia Tech

"When it came to choosing a college it came down to money. I couldn't go to the school I wanted to (the University of Southern California) because of the cost. I had to stay in state for the lower tuition." — Khylil Chestnut, pre-law student and HOPE scholar, Kennesaw State University; expecting about $300,000 in law school debt for a dual degree

"The starting salaries for some careers, such as teaching, is around $35,000. Having thousands of dollars in debt could dissuade some students from entering these careers and that's troubling." — Tim Renick, vice provost and vice president for enrollment management and student success, Georgia State University