The Growing Debt Load…A Millennial Dilemma

June 8, 2011

As our guest expert series continues today as we talk with Maya Enista, CEO of mobilize.org.  Mobilize.org is a national Millennial-led organization with the mission to improve the way democracy works by investing in Millennial-driven solutions.  Mobilize.org is no stranger to the rising costs of higher education and one of the first organizations to introduce me to the rising debt load of graduating college students.  To be honest, I am one of the fortunate ones whose parents paid for my education and as a young parent I wonder how we will provide the same blessing to our kids.  Read on for my discussion with Maya and her thoughts and reactions to our recently released white paper – The Millennial Generation Today.    

Q: Our research mirrors your organization’s research in regard to the average debt load of graduating college students being in the $20,000 to $22,000 range.  How does the debt load differ from previous generations and what is the impact on the Millennials?  

A: Comparing the Millennial debt burden and that of past generation’s is like comparing apples and oranges, due in large part to external factors such as an increase in cost of living and increased education costs. Millennials are facing unique challenges in terms of their debt, and it’s important to note that while there are always exceptions to the rule, Millennials are not in debt because they own too many clothes, or are addicted to Starbucks. Millennials are in debt because of the skyrocketing costs of higher education (tuition, housing, books, etc.) and the costs associated with healthcare. It’s important that we don’t paint this generation with a careless, apathetic brush, but instead – as hard working young people who are making important choices for their future, and dealing with the consequences, both positive and negative. At Mobilize.org, our work focuses on empowering and investing in Millennials to address critical social problems, and I am happy to report that this is a generation (my generation!) that is above all else, resilient, collaborative and entrepreneurial and I am certain that the challenges that are faced (financial, employment, etc.) will be overcome.

Q: Our research found 61% of graduates graduated with some debt?  Within your work with the Millennial generation do you find this statistic high, on average or low? What are your thoughts on this statistic?

A: I’m surprised that you found that only 61% of Millennials graduated with some debt. With 77% of 4-year college students and 42.5% of community college students applying for financial aid, it is a rare scenario for Millennials today to complete their post-secondary education without some financial assistance, and for many, loans are the best option. I encourage Millennials to look into the resources that their schools (and their states) offer, and maximize the dollars available for their education. If you’re applying for college, considering applying for college, etc. please check out information on the FAFSA (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/) and find out more information about the loans, and scholarships that you may be eligible for. Today, more than ever, the United States is a heavily focused on skills-based service oriented jobs. By 2018 our economy will create 46.8 million job openings, according to the Center on Education and Workforce. Nearly two-thirds of these 46.8 million jobs will require workers with at least some college education. Mobilize.org believes that higher education is becoming less of an option and more of a serious path to financial stability. The debt is burdensome, the costs are prohibitive at times, but the education is priceless.

Q: The Millennials are projected to make up almost 50% of the workforce around 2016 – what are the biggest challenges they will face as they continue to grow their careers or start their careers?

A: As I was growing up, my mom always told me that if I was lucky enough to find a job that I loved, I’d never work a day in my life. She was right, and I was lucky to find Mobilize.org.  I have the privilege of working in a flexible, passionate, entrepreneurial organization and I hope all Millennials are lucky enough to find that job that allows them to never work a day in their lives. However, the tension between the entrepreneurial, flexible organization and company and those that are set in their ways, rigid and reluctant to change, present a tension for the creative and collaborative Millennials entering the work place.  It’s important here to also point out that Millennials aren’t a different species, and they will face many of the same challenges growing their careers as other generations did – questioning authority, balancing work and families, etc. Just as other generations (and each individual) have arrived at a balance that suited their own lives, Millennials will as well.

Q: Our research found that many Millennials are in limbo with almost half being in a job they did not want to be in.  Do you think this generation is underemployed? Looking in your crystal ball, do you think this is temporary or the new normal for young workers?

A: Millennials are young, early in their careers, and exploring their interests and passions. Our parents generation (Baby Boomers) had an average of 2 – 3 jobs over their lifetimes, and it’s said that Millennials will have an average of 15. The workplace is changing, as is the definition of a career and a meaningful contribution in society. I do think this dissatisfaction, or period of exploration, is temporary and I think it’s natural. Pair that with the economic depression, where Millennials (and everyone else) were hard pressed to find a job, much less one they loved, you have a unique set of circumstances that welcomed this generation into the workplace. This generation is certainly facing unique obstacles in their employment, which double digit unemployment numbers for the general population, spiking for minority Millennials. The focus, of the public sector, must be on creating jobs for this generation (and all generations) that take into account the new industries that are strengthening America’s economy.

Thank you Maya for taking time to share your thoughts.  You can check out the organization at http://www.mobilize.org/.


One comment

  1. Sure this is a place many young Americans find themselves in. Drowning in medical debt, student loans, and still trying to build the life they were promised as they were growing up.

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