Student loan debt on the rise and hurting overall economy

Champaign -- More than 50 percent of students at the University of Illinois take out student loans to pay for school. But the struggle to pay them back is keeping them from making other investments.

While graduation is supposed to be about the pomp and circumstance, University of Illinois senior Jeoly Mei is worried about not knowing what is next.

"I feel like a failure," said Mei. "Because I'm graduating from a very prestigious college, I'm going to have a Bachelor's degree, I've been doing three internships, I even have a double minor and a double concentration. I feel like all my resume is set, companies should hire me."

But even though she applied to countless positions and had 10 interviews, Mei will join an estimated 60 percent of U of I students that graduate without a full-time job in their desired field. A stressful thought for Mei, consider she has around $10,000 in student loans to pay back. And while that's below the university average in 2013, which was $24,507, it's enough to make her think of other options.

"If I do have a part-time job, I think it will take me six months maybe to pay off my loans and have the money to buy a car," said Mei.

A struggle that is present across the country, as an increase in student debt nationwide seems to be causing a decrease in the number of graduates taking out mortgages or car loans, which is keeping them from entering what analysts call the "grown-up economy." Still career counselors say there is reason to be optimistic.

"[The] job market is looking better this year than it has been probably three to five, six years ago," said Gail Rooney, director of the university's Career Center.

Counselors also say that a promising technique to use during a job hunt is to network, and to be open to positions that could serve as stepping stones to a more lucrative job in the future. 

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