Photo by Claudia Gesiotto.

Low debt, high hopes for UCF fall class of 2016

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Within days, UCF seniors donned in caps and gowns will walk across the graduation stage and look forward to what lies ahead.

More than half of UCF’s fall 2016 class will graduate with student loan debt, but this debt is projected to be 28 percent lower than the national average of $30,100.

David Fine, a senior information technology major, has accumulated about $30,000 in debt at UCF. Since he attended college for five years instead of the traditional four, his amount exceeds UCF’s debt average of $21,824.

“It’s an investment,” Fine said. “I invested into more knowledge and a brighter future.”

Fine views his student debt as just another bill. He said he plans on paying off his debt by setting aside around $100 every month for more than 30 years.

“If $30,000 is all I have to pay to get a good job for the rest of my life, that’s O.K.” Fine said.

Fine said he considered future income when he was choosing his major.

With an average starting salary of $71,534, computer and information sciences is the nation’s highest paid bachelor’s degree, according to a 2016 report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. 

Mimi Collins, the director of content strategy at the National Association of Colleges and Employers, pointed out the importance of having a bachelor’s degree in the work force.

“If you’re in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field, a bachelor’s degree is what employers are looking at,” Collins said.

Fine agreed, but said he thinks getting a bachelor’s degree is vital to success in any field.

“You’re not going to be able to find a really good job without a bachelor’s degree,” Fine said.

UCF senior Victor Demetrio will graduate debt free with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences.

Demetrio said he believes he could have had a much higher GPA if he had the time to focus on school. Demetrio worked three jobs as a waiter while juggling a full-time course load to avoid taking out loans.

“I would rather graduate with debt,” he said.

Demetrio said attending university is more of a business.

“They have a business model of making money that’s taking away from people’s education.”

He plans on getting his master’s degree and going to medical school.

Demetrio said that nowadays, everyone has a bachelor’s degree and thus less valuable when job hunting. Now, people have to spend money for higher education, which is more competitive.

Demetrio said a bachelor’s degree today is the equivalent to a high school degree 20 years ago.

“We learn so much and we’re very qualified,” Demetrio said. “It should matter.”

Last year, 32.5 percent of Americans aged 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree, compared with 23 percent in 1995, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Vanessa Grim, a senior hospitality management major, echoed Demetrio’s concerns about the current value of a bachelor’s degree in the job market.

Due to her student loan debt, somewhere between $12,000 to $15,000, Grim said she plans on working before going back to school.

“Graduating with a degree is not that big of a deal anymore.” Grim said. “It’s so competitive now, and that scares me.”

Collins said that starting a career is a challenge for everybody, not just recent graduates.

“Looking for a job is tough, no matter how good the job market is,” Collins said.

Collins advises UCF students to utilize their on-campus resources, such as career services, to get a head start.

“[College] is probably the only time in your life you’re going to have free access to that level of expertise and guidance when it comes to career and job search,” Collins said.

With experience in the hospitality field and a determination to succeed, Grim said she feels confident that she’ll eventually launch her career in hospitality management and pay off her debt.

“I don’t think money is the biggest thing,” Grim said. “If I enjoy what I’m doing and the people around me, I’ll be happy.”

Psychology major Alexandra Gil paid for her college education through scholarships and the help of her parents.

From a young age, Gil knew what she wanted to study.

“I’ve always loved helping people through their problems,” Gil said.

This year, psychology was reported to be one of the lowest-paying majors at an average income of $36,327, according to a report from Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute.

However, for Gil, money was never a factor in choosing her major.

“It’s about waking up and being passionate about what you’re doing,” Gil said. “Passion supersedes money.”

Created by Nicole Dudenhoefer.