BY ERNEST BECK
When John Crespo, Student ASLA, was applying to master of landscape architecture programs a few years ago, his target list ranged far and wide, from Texas A&M to Kansas State, University of Illinois, and Cornell University. Admitted to all of them, Crespo opted for the more expensive Cornell, figuring that the school’s excellent academic program and vaunted reputation in landscape architecture might boost his career chances. Next spring, Crespo will graduate with a coveted Cornell degree, but he will also be saddled with an estimated $30,000 in student loans. “It was a calculated decision, because my biggest concern after leaving school was finding a job,” Crespo, 28, recalls about his decision. “I hope the Cornell name will provide me with some leverage and, down the road, the investment will pay off.”
Faced with rising tuition costs and shrinking financial aid opportunities, landscape architecture students are part of the wave of students across the country going deeper into debt to finance their education and professional goals. Some, like Crespo, are banking on that investment to further their careers, despite the debt load, while others are simply trying to obtain degrees that will open doors to their desired fields. Whatever the motive, the total student debt market, which includes private, variable-rate loans and federally backed fixed-rate loans, is surging. In 2013 it topped $1.2 trillion, after passing the $1 trillion mark only two years earlier. More than 70 percent of college seniors who graduated in 2012 from four-year colleges had debt from student loans, compared to 68 percent in 2008. And the average debt load for those graduating with bachelor’s degrees for the class of 2012 climbed to $29,400, up 25 percent from $23,450 in 2008, according to the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success.