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We Owe, We Owe 

Student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt in the U.S., with job prospects bleak even for graduates with degrees. As defaults increase, can anything be done?

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"College is getting more expensive, a lot more expensive," writes Reynolds. "At an annual growth rate of 7.4 percent a year, tuition has vastly outstripped the consumer price index of 3.8 percent. It's skyrocketed past spiraling health care increases of 5.8 percent. Even the housing bubble at its runaway peak pales in comparison."


Applebaum says there's probably a "zero" chance of the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012 actually being passed by Congress, given current Republican congressional leanings. But it could make all the difference for someone like Angelina Rodrigues, a 31-year-old SSU undergrad. Rodrigues' story is typical for many suffering under the weight of student loan debt. Born in Lake County to a lower-middle-class family and raised by a single mother, Rodrigues saw college as a way to move up in the world.

After attending community college, she transferred to San Francisco State University for one semester before being accepted to Mills College in Oakland. With an average yearly tuition of $38,000 per year (not counting room and board), the school may have presented a financial challenge, but Rodrigues saw it as a smart move for her future career. She took out a private loan for $20,000 from Bank of America to pay for living expenses.

"If you're going to learn something and get a proper education, than it's really hard to work," says Rodrigues. But the financial strain proved too much, and she left Mills after one year, deciding that she was done with school. The private loan originated at $21,000; a few years later, she owes more on the loan than before, even after making payments. This can be partially attributed to interest rates that fluctuate at the will of the private lender.

Currently, Rodrigues owes about $40,000 total in student loans and interest. She decided to return to school last year and is working toward her bachelor's degree. With an ultimate goal of getting a master's degree or a teaching credential, Rodrigues is looking at many thousands more tacked on to her original debt.

"It's scary. The feeling of that kind of debt cripples you," says Rodrigues, who lives in Santa Rosa with her partner and their four-year-old son. She says her once "amazing" credit has been affected by late payments on her student loan debt, which has made it hard to rent a decent living space.

In the end, Rodrigues worries her degree will end up as more of a ball-and-chain than a liberator, and that, like so many others, she won't be able to find a job in her field.

"I'm just thinking of survival," she says. "It's like you get into this game and know you have to play it their way. OK, I have to take out loans to do this. I stopped playing it after I realized how ridiculous it was for a minute, and then I got stuck. I got trapped in it."

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