A wall of debt: Tech’s USG calls attention to problem

HOUGHTON – As college tuition goes up and state and federal aid for students remains the same or decreases, students are facing growing amounts of debt. To illustrate how this affects local students, the Michigan Technological University Undergraduate Student Government is inviting people to visit their debt wall and place a sticker estimating their debt after graduation.

“We took a page from the Prudential Life Super Bowl ad last year where they asked how old is the oldest person you know, but we’re asking how much debt do you think you’ll graduate with as a student,” said David Shull, USG public relations chair.

This is the first time Michigan Tech has hosted such an event, but Shull said last year the Student Association of Michigan hosted a similar event where participants placed markers on an 8-foot-by-4-foot graph.

Tech is going a bit bigger, with a 30-foot-by-50-foot graph. Participants can take an orange sticker, representing debt including loans, or a green sticker, representing debt including aid that doesn’t need to be paid back, like scholarships or grants, and place it in the proper column of the graph.

“Right now it just ticked over one trillion dollars in student debt around the country, so it’s a pretty big issue,” Shull said. “The point was to look at how this line (of state appropriations) to public universities has dropped and how much tuition has increased and say that’s not acceptable. We just wanted to get a graphic on the impact student debt has here in Houghton and also nationally.”

“We’re hoping to get almost 100,000 people,” said Kaitlin Halonen, USG member.

The event is not limited to Michigan Tech students. Anyone attending or recently graduated from a university is welcome to come and share their expected level of debt.

“What we really don’t want to have happen is for people to say, ‘Well, this is a Michigan Tech problem.’ It’s on the state level and the national level,” Shull said. “It’s problem people at Michigan Tech face and almost every student across the country faces.”

They are hoping to call attention to the increase in student debt and plan to share their results publicly.

“We’re hoping to put it in our website and then next week we’re meeting with a State Representative and we’re going to show it to him also,” Halonen said.

“This is a demographic of people we want to call attention to and say ‘this is a problem.’ But it’s also at a federal level, there are budgets at both levels that influence the tuition students have to pay,” Shull said.

“So instead of this number (of state appropriations) continuing to go down we want to see it go up so student debt is alleviated.”

The event began Tuesday at Michigan Tech’s Van Pelt and Opie Library. It will continue today from 2 to 4 p.m., Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m.