– ‘How the Debt Crisis Impacts UMSL’ focuses on impact of student debt on university, St. Louis area students
PHOTO: Jerry McCrave, Dr. Carl Hoagland, Vanity Gee,  Joel Hollinger and Anne Bartin worked on the documentary ‘How the Debt Crisis Impacts UMSL.’ Photo by Cate Marquis for The Current ©

 

By Cate Marquis, Editor-in-Chief  for The Current

The take-away message of a new documentary on student debt, “How the Debt Crisis Impacts UMSL” which was created by students at University of Missouri-St. Louis, was to approach borrowing for college with caution.

The documentary debuted at the Student Debt Film Festival on Tuesday, April 16 in Marillac Hall on South Campus. The film was the last in a monthly film series on the student debt crisis presented by Young Activists United St. Louis, UMSL Chapter.

Alice Floros, senior, history education, who is inter-campus coordinator with Young Activist United St. Louis, and its faculty sponsor, Dr. Carl Hoagland, teaching professor and Emerson Electric Endowed professor of technology and learning, were on hand to moderate the post screening discussion.

Hoagland’s graduate class created the short documentary. Jerry McCrave, graduate, adult education; Joel Hollinger, senior, adult education; Anne Bartin, graduate, adult education, all contributed to the script. Vanity Gee, sophomore, media studies, served as video editor.

Hoagland described Floros as the “energy behind the film series.” As Floros mentioned, student debt in this country exceeded credit card debt for the first time last year. Young Activists United St. Louis UMSL Chapter is sponsoring a “Twitter rally” on Tuesday, April 23, to mark the anniversary of student debt reaching $1 billion nationally.

“On Tuesday Young Activists United will participate in a nationwide twitter rally with the hashtag #1TDay (1 trillion day). All students have to do is tweet a fact, anecdote, or opinion on student debt and include the hashtag,” Courtney Hayes, junior, English, who is a member of Young Activists United and was elected to Student Senate in last week’s election, said.

“How the Debt Crisis Impacts UMSL” brought a local focus to the issue. The documentary opened with news footage of a recent incident in downtown St. Louis, when a college student shot his financial adviser and then himself. Both survived but the event brought the student loan crisis to local attention.

The documentary offered interviews with present students and recent graduates at UMSL and other local universities. Also featured in the film was Alan Byrd, Dean of Enrollment, who was present for the screening.

The film noted that while credit card debt, debt built up from extravagant lifestyles or even gambling debt can all be wiped out in bankruptcy, student loans cannot. It also noted that some student loan payments now rival mortgage payments, an enormous burden for someone just starting out.

After the screening, the audience of about 20 formed a circle for a discussion on the topic. Many participants suggested that education on student loan debt begin early, in high school or even in grade school.

“I was happy with the outcome of the film, I was really excited to be a part of it,” Hayes said. “One thing I took away from it, it seemed like students are having to adjust to the changing tide and there’s not much demand for the government to change anything, or for the people who run the (student loan) system to change anything, I think. We’re kind of having to pay the price for something we didn’t cause. It’s not really fair…something needs to change with student debt.”

“All the conversation so far, fixes responsibility on the student,” Dr. Bob Bliss, Dean of the Honors College, said. “The student has some responsibility (but) there are other areas of responsibility you can focus on. The university could organize itself a little more efficiently.” Bliss’ comment brought agreement from other faculty in the room but some qualifications as well.

“At any public institution, you have to keep access and affordability in the front of whatever you do,” Alan Byrd said. Byrd said that it was important to look at the net costs and what federal and state financial aid provides. “As a university, you have to supplement that, to make sure you make your school affordable for your demographic.”

Byrd noted that UMSL has many lower income students.

“Right now net cost is well over $36,000 when most of our students don’t make over $25,000,” he said. “We have to do our part to close that gap, so students can actually work their way through on a work-study job,” he said.

When asked by another faculty member if Byrd thought faculty understood this, Byrd replied “probably not.”

“I often find myself in a room with faculty who were full-time college students who didn’t work. The number one job in college was to learn. And it is difficult for them to understand you have people who have other responsibilities, where they can’t just put everything on the back burner and concentrate on school,” he said.

Hoagland, Floros and the others involved in the making of the film hope to show it again on campus, possibly in classes. They are also considering ways to distribute or screen the documentary more widely.

Despite the challenges of student debt, Courtney Hayes, who has worked with Young Activists United St. Louis – UMSL Chapter, tells UMSL students not to lose hope.

“It can be very intimidating as a student burdened with debt – particularly non-traditional students with jobs and/or children – to take on this issue. I would tell them that we – Young Activists United – will do our best to meet them where they are at. Students throughout the country are engaging in strikes and protests – particularly at IU Bloomington – and seeing what they do can give you hope,” Hayes said.

“As I mentioned in the (SGA) debate, I am interested in making the SGA more proactive in passing resolutions and engaging with students on issues affecting student debt,” Hayes said. “I would like to discuss issues with those who have more experience in SGA than I do – I would especially like to tackle issues regarding the advising and financial aid process for transfer students and possibly making the process of transferring credits easier. I know that parking is also a major complaint among students, especially considering the expense, so I would like to find a way to fix the issue.”

“Young Activists United is trying to build our base of support. We understand students at UMSL have very active lives outside of school and may have a difficult time being involved. We think it is important that we represent everybody and can make a statement about affordability,” she said.

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