Student Loan Debt Hit $1.7 Trillion in 2023. What Can The US Do About It?

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A recent research report from WGU Labs titled “Drowning in Debt: Student Loans Weigh Down Borrowers” sheds light on the alarming state of student loan debt in the U.S. The report highlights the disproportionate impact on borrowers who did not complete a bachelor’s degree, women, Black individuals, and LatinX individuals. With student loan debt surpassing a staggering $1.7 trillion in 2023, it is evident that the current system is failing borrowers and requires urgent attention.

Key Findings

1. Struggles with Repayment

The report  reveals that 43% of borrowers surveyed were struggling with student loan repayment even before the payment pause. This struggle was particularly high among Black and LatinX borrowers, those without a bachelor’s degree, and women. Additionally, over 10% of respondents were in default, with borrowers without a bachelor’s degree and Black respondents being more likely to be in default.

2. Toll on Mental Well-being

The burden of student loan debt affects borrowers’ mental well-being. Higher levels of regret, stress, and hopelessness were reported among women, Black and LatinX borrowers, and those without a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, less than 40% of respondents believed their education was worth the financial cost. (Note: this is also covered extensively in SoFi at Work’s Student Debt and the Impact on Mental Health.)

3. Financial & Personal Milestones Delayed

Student loans delay important financial milestones for borrowers, such as saving for retirement, buying a home or car, and achieving financial security. Respondents with at least a bachelor’s degree who took out student loans had significantly fewer financial assets than those who never did.

Though not to the same extent as financial milestones, student loans can also delay personal life milestones. Borrowers with at least a bachelor’s degree and men reported higher levels of delay. Interestingly, when asked about pursuing future education, there was also a disparity among borrowers: Those without a bachelor’s degree expressed a greater need for further education, while Black borrowers, LatinX borrowers, and men were more likely to plan on pursuing additional education.

Calls to Action

The report concludes with two crucial calls to action to address the student loan crisis.

1. Educate Borrowers on Repayment

Borrowers, especially those without a bachelor’s degree, need better information and support regarding loan repayment options. Higher education institutions, borrower advocates, and employers can all play a role in providing this education and support.

2. Expand Employer Student Loan Benefits

Employers can make a significant impact by offering student loan repayment assistance as part of their employee benefit programs. Federal policies provide tax incentives for employers to assist with loan repayment, and public sector and nonprofit employers can certify employees for loan forgiveness. Streamlining the eligibility process and encouraging employers, particularly those with low-wage workforces, to offer debt repayment programs is crucial.

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3. Expand Access to Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Launching a tuition reimbursement program can be a game-changer for your organization, attracting and retaining top talent while fostering employee growth and engagement. It can also address some challenges with student debt head-on by supporting employees’ educational aspirations before they must take on debt. While a number of large employers offer this benefit, it has historically been an underutilized resource in the effort to reduce the student debt burden.

Leverage the New Secure 2.0 Act Provisions

The Secure 2.0 Act, which became law in 2022, is primarily designed to encourage more American workers to save for retirement. However, one of the Act’s key provisions is formally authorizing matching contributions for student loan repayment, allowing companies to match employees’ qualified student loan payments with contributions to their retirement accounts. This is yet another tool employers can access when alleviating the stress of employees’ student loan debt.

The Takeaway

The WGU Labs research report highlights the dire consequences of the student loan crisis on borrowers, particularly those without a bachelor’s degree, women, Black individuals, and LatinX individuals. While recent efforts to forgive debt and create more manageable repayment programs are steps in the right direction, a comprehensive reform of the student loan system is needed. Policy leaders, student advocates, and higher education institutions must work together to find bold solutions that alleviate the burden of student loan debt and make higher education more accessible and affordable for all.

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org


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At different points in your career, you may decide that it’s time to make a change and switch industries or professions. Changing careers may mean taking a few steps back and focusing on learning new skills. You may consider taking online courses and earning certificates before you can start applying for jobs. While you have to put in this effort upfront, it pays off in the long run when you feel more fulfilled at your job and have better opportunities and career growth.

If you’re feeling unsatisfied in your current role and are thinking about changing careers, explore some growing industries and popular roles we’ve compiled for you to consider.

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Changing careers is a big decision that takes planning and research. At first, moving to a different industry or switching professions can feel like starting over. Soft skills like communication, organization, and leadership are transferable, but you may need to learn specific hard skills before you’re qualified for the types of positions you want.

As you start brainstorming your different options, you want to make sure changing career paths is the right move. Evaluate your current position and company to identify possible growth opportunities and other small changes that would impact your job satisfaction and happiness. You may decide to look for the same job title at a different company that fits your needs better.

Here are some factors to consider when deciding to change careers:

  • What to change. Try to determine how big a change you need, whether you would be happy at a different company doing the same role or if you need to change positions or industries entirely.
  • Values. Changing career paths is an opportunity for a fresh start. Think about what matters to you most in the workplace, whether it’s flexibility, culture, pay, or the type of work you do, so you can find companies and positions that match.
  • Skills gaps. Evaluate what courses, certifications, and skills you need to learn before you can start applying for jobs.
  • Market research. Pay attention to projected growth and trends so you can move into an industry that pays well and has job openings.
  • Career goals. Use this time to set career goals and contemplate where you want to be in the next five years.
  • Time commitment. Decide if now is the right time to make a change. Research the types of jobs you want and consider if you have the time in your schedule to commit to upskilling and preparing your resume.
  • Burn out. Reflect and see if you’re suffering from burnout and need to learn how to create work-life balance by setting boundaries or take some time off completely to recover.
  • Quitting. Decide if you can change careers while staying at your current job or if you want to quit, take time off, or go back to school.
  • Career coaching. Get career advice from an expert coach if you need help creating an action plan and figuring out your next move.

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The industry you work in affects everything from job availability to workplace flexibility. Some industries are better suited for remote working, while others need in-person participation. Ideally, you want to choose an industry that’s growing and is in high demand; typically, that means a higher average salary and more secure job. The industry should align with your interests, whether that’s health care or sustainability, so you can enjoy what you do.

When evaluating job industries, analyze how experts predict they will change and evolve based on societal trends and technological developments in the next five to ten years. Consider whether advances in generative AI (artificial intelligence) could impact your day-to-day job activities or if the demand for your industry will grow or shrink.

AI, sustainability, and other trending areas have demands for talent that aren’t quite met yet by availability because the fields are newer. This supply and demand situation can mean higher starting salaries and opportunities for growth. You have a chance of establishing yourself as a leader in a new field.

Before suggesting specific roles, we’ll describe several different types of industries to consider switching to:

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During the Silicon Valley boom, tech jobs became known for paying well and having flexibility, along with other perks. Many employees became millionaires overnight by cashing out stock when the startups they worked at went public (IPO–initial public offering). Companies like Google and Apple built entire campuses for their employees, offering free chef-cooked meals, on-site gyms, wellness benefits, and even unlimited paid time off, depending on the role.

While the noise around Silicon Valley has quieted some, and tech companies have headquarters across the world rather than centralized in San Francisco, these types of jobs still offer competitive compensation and can often be remote. If you want to work in tech, positions in software development, data science, and digital marketing tend to pay well and have competitive starting salaries.

These positions often allow work-from-home flexibility, or you can spend part of the time in the office, depending on the company’s remote working policies. You can teach yourself hard skills like coding languages or earn certificates in product management or Google Analytics to make yourself a more competitive candidate. Online learning platforms offer free and paid courses to acquire specific skills.

Online learning platforms for tech skills:

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Private and public companies worldwide are shifting their focus toward being greener, creating a surge in demand for jobs. The green economy invests in social and environmental sustainability. Many companies are looking to minimize their impact and use of resources. This could involve developing an alternative energy source or reducing corporate waste by switching to more eco-friendly product packaging.

Startups are creating innovative solutions to everyday problems like reusing plastic waste or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Established companies are joining the net zero coalition to help reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible. Even if a company’s products or services aren’t directly related to sustainability, they may have a department or team dedicated to making the business more environmentally friendly.

In the green economy, you could work in corporate social responsibility, helping companies reduce their impact, or be in the field as a technician, farmer, or researcher. Sustainability has many different facets that you can focus on, whether you want to be on the business side or have more of a hands-on technical role.

Different areas of focus for green economy jobs:

  • Biology
  • Consulting
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Urban planning
  • Environmental science
  • Conservation
  • Non-profit positions
  • Environmental engineer
  • Government jobs
  • Waste management

Where to find sustainable jobs:

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The large health care industry maintains a steady demand for roles and job security over time. When you think of health-centric professionals, doctors and nurses may be the first roles that come to mind. If you go beyond medicine and enter the health and wellness space, you can find a variety of other jobs that may fit your interests.

In addition, the wellness industry is growing and looks here to stay as people invest more time and money in their mental and physical well-being. Practices like mindfulness and self-care became even more critical during the pandemic. Wellness has become an everyday part of many people’s lives.

More people are curious about alternative medicine and supplements. Chinese medicine and other holistic Eastern practices like acupuncture, massage, and homeopathy are becoming incorporated into health and wellness plans, as are virtual visits. Instead of meeting with doctors and therapists in person, telemedicine allows patients to chat or video call with healthcare professionals from the comfort of their homes—which increases job flexibility for workers.

The idea of wellness even worked its way into the workplace as more employers offer these types of benefits and try to cultivate a company culture that prevents burnout. This focus on health typically pays off with increased productivity and fewer absences and workplace injuries in employees.

Examples of jobs in the wellness industry:

  • Nutritionist
  • Life coach
  • Personal trainer
  • Fitness instructor
  • Chef
  • Chiropractor
  • Aesthetician
  • Acupuncturist
  • Massage therapist

Some of these jobs require schooling to become licensed, while others can be self-taught. Depending on the type of role, you may be able to work from home or need to be in-person with clients.

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E-commerce and online business

Instead of selling products only at brick-and-mortar stores, companies can reach customers globally with e-commerce. Online websites, marketplaces, and social media allow companies to connect with customers from all over the world. Some companies operate completely online and don’t need a storefront, providing services directly to customers through their website or app.

Shopify estimates that by 2024, over 21% of total retail sales will happen online, and the number continues to grow. Online marketplaces, like Amazon, make up the biggest share of e-commerce sales. You could offer your services as a consultant, helping companies set up and optimize their e-commerce channels or set up your own online business.

If you want to set up an online business, you don’t need to have your own product. As an affiliate marketer, you can earn a commission by promoting and selling other company’s products and services. You can do this by advertising them on your social media channels or blog. Every time someone purchases a product using your link or code, you make money.

Content creators with a large following may have brands reach out directly for affiliate programs and collaborations. If you’re not there yet, that’s OK. You can use sites like ShopifyAmazon Associates, Rakuten, and eBay partner network to find companies looking for affiliate partners. Ideally, you want to promote only products that are “on brand” with the type of content you make.

You can also create your own online store and fulfill orders by dropshipping. Instead of having to keep product inventory, you can work with suppliers that handle stock and shipping. Dropshipping suppliers ship products directly to your customers.

Let’s say you want to sell mugs on your website. The dropshipping supplier charges you $3.99 per mug, so you list them on your website for $12.99. When a customer purchases a mug from your site, the supplier handles the shipping. All you have to do is market the products, and you earn $9 for every sale.

Keep reading:

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Creators can use digital platforms to monetize their artistic skills. You can choose from a variety of different creative avenues and mediums, depending on what your talents are. Switching careers and moving into the creative space can mean starting from scratch to build your business and reputation. Think about what you’re naturally talented at and how you could make it profitable.

If you enjoy creating physical products, you could list them on Etsy. Digital creators can engage their audience on social media and make money by running ads and partnering with brands. As a freelancer, you can offer your services like graphic design or writing directly to your clients on an online platform.

When you do what you love, it sometimes doesn’t even feel like work. You may be able to start exploring creative avenues while working at your current job. Test the waters and see if there’s a demand for your goods and services.

Creative avenues to consider:

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Think about what your dream job looks like. Some people may want the flexibility of working from home, while others need to know that they’re making a difference. Everyone has different work values. Find companies that share these values and create the type of work environment that you do best in. Reflect on what fulfills you professionally and then start doing research on the types of jobs you think you’d enjoy.

If you’re considering changing careers, these are some of the top roles to investigate:

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Digital marketers help businesses reach their audiences using online channels like social media and websites. The goal of a digital marketer could be to generate leads and sales or grow brand awareness. Digital marketers know how to tell a brand’s story through content and make sure it reaches the target audiences.

Businesses of all sizes and stages need digital marketers to engage their customers. Digital marketers decide what content the brand needs, choose the channels to promote it on, and then analyze the data to optimize performance.

Digital marketing responsibilities can include:

  • Content calendar planning and management
  • Content creation
  • Social media management
  • Performance reporting
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Email marketing
  • Blogging
  • Website management
  • Paid advertising
  • Campaign stewardship
  • Project management
  • Content audits

Keep reading:

Median hourly rate: $25 per hour

Find digital marketing jobs

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Data scientists combine computer programming, machine learning, statistical analysis, and software engineering skills to dive deep into an organization’s data. They look for patterns and trends to help their clients and employers make better decisions.

A data scientist may use complex data to forecast and make predictions. They often work in programming languages like Python, R, and SQL. Part of a data scientist’s job may be to take their findings and communicate them to other stakeholders in a report or presentation.

Data science responsibilities may include:

  • Doing A/B testing
  • Creating frameworks
  • Providing predictive modeling
  • Developing algorithms and models
  • Creating custom analytics tools
  • Cleaning and mining data
  • Completing statistical analyses

Keep reading:

Median hourly rate: $35 per hour

Find data science jobs

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Machine learning engineers help machines like robots learn how to function and increase output through repetition and patterns. The goal is for these machines to be able to perform these tasks independently. Machine learning engineers create autonomous machines.

These types of engineers use data to create algorithms that simulate how humans learn for machines and robots to replicate. Over time, the machine “learns” to become more efficient. Real-life examples of machine learning are image and speech recognition, video surveillance, predictive analytics, targeted advertisements, and self-driving cars.

Machine learning engineer responsibilities may include:

  • Conducting experiments
  • Designing machine learning systems
  • Performing statistical analyses
  • Creating and training models
  • Implementing algorithms

If you wanted to create a machine that mimics human intelligence, that would be AI. This is a growing field as companies across industries are beginning to expand the use of AI and generative AI. Examples of AI are digital virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri, fully autonomous vehicles, chatbots, and Canva Image Generator.

Machine learning and AI engineers work in programming languages like Python, R, Java, JavaScript, C++, Julia, LISP, and Haskell. These types of engineers are needed in many different industries.

Keep reading:

Median hourly rate: $35 per hour

Find machine learning engineer jobs.

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UX designers think about how the user interacts with a product and find ways to improve it. UX designers consider factors like usability, accessibility, and overall satisfaction when evaluating a product or service. They may work with a digital service like a mobile app or website, or a physical product. UX designers take the user journey and make sure that it’s a seamless experience from start to finish.

A UX designer decides how to display information in a way that’s easy to use and visually appealing. They may create wireframes for the developers and engineers to build. The job of a UX designer is to understand what the product or service needs to do and then make it as enjoyable as possible for the end user. They typically work in Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator) and programs like Figma and Sketch.

UX designer responsibilities may include:

  • Run A/B tests
  • Define end-user needs through focus groups and interviews
  • Create wireframes, mockups, and prototypes
  • Develop storyboards and user-flows
  • Gather feedback on designs from users
  • Design interfaces and visual elements
  • Provide graphic design

Keep reading:

Median hourly rate: $27 per hour

Find UX designer jobs.

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Environmental consultants use their expert knowledge of sustainability to advise businesses, non-profits, and government organizations. These consultants help create policies, systems, and processes to minimize an organization’s impact on the earth. Environmental consultants can work in the public or private sector and help develop sustainable practices.

An environmental consultant may audit how the organization is currently performing and then offer recommendations for improvements that adhere to environmental laws and regulations. They help improve and protect the environment by advising companies and organizations to be more sustainable in their business operations.

Environmental consultant responsibilities may include:

  • Advising regulatory compliance
  • Remediating environmental concerns
  • Practicing conservation
  • Designing environmental management systems
  • Doing data analysis and reporting
  • Visiting worksites
  • Conducting tests

Average hourly rate: $36 per hour

Find environmental consultant and sustainability jobs

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As more people install solar panels on their homes and businesses, the demand for solar technicians increases. Solar panels convert energy from sunlight to electrical energy. Companies and individuals use solar panels as an alternative energy source. Solar technicians typically install these panels on the tops or sides of buildings or in an empty field where they can absorb the most sunlight possible.

What’s great about becoming a solar technician is that you typically don’t need a bachelor’s degree. It’s a trade that you can generally learn on the job. Employers often teach technicians safety protocols, as the job involves working with electrical systems and installation techniques. Some technical schools or community colleges may offer courses and training for solar technicians to make it easier to find a job.

Solar technician responsibilities may include:

  • Performing maintenance repairs
  • Doing installations
  • Making sure panels adhere to local regulations and codes
  • Building solar farms
  • Consulting with clients
  • Troubleshooting electrical systems

Average hourly rate: $31 per hour

Find solar energy jobs.

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Yoga is an ancient practice that today has become a wellness exercise that combines stretching, meditation, and strength. Instructors lead their classes through different poses and types of yoga, from power yoga in a heated room to a gentler, slow-paced yin. Yoga instructors must attend a registered yoga school and complete a certification program, which is typically between 200 and 500 hours.

As a yoga instructor, you can teach small classes at a yoga studio, gym, or other facility or even corporate or private classes. Many companies offer yoga classes to their employees as part of their wellness benefits. Virtual yoga has become more popular, allowing you to teach students from the comfort of your home.  

Yoga teacher responsibilities may include:

  • Lead the class through yoga poses
  • Provide adjustments
  • Correct posture and alignment
  • Check in students at the front desk
  • Clean exercise space between classes

Average hourly rate: $26 per hour

Find online yoga jobs.

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Nutritionists help clients achieve their health and wellness goals through diet and exercise. They create specialized meal plans based on their client’s individual needs and check in to monitor progress. Nutritionists focus on the wellness side of food and diet, compared to registered dieticians who work alongside medical professionals as part of a treatment plan.

Depending on where you live (you can check U.S. state laws here), you may need to earn a related degree, take courses, and become a certified and licensed dietician before working as a nutritionist. Some states and countries allow nutritionists to work with clients in a non-medical capacity without needing a license.

‍Nutritionist responsibilities may include:

  • Create meal and exercise plans
  • Address dietary restrictions
  • Assess sleep, exercise, and food habits
  • Educate clients on healthy eating habits
  • Set goals for clients
  • Provide ongoing support, coaching, and check-ins
  • Monitor progress

Average hourly rate: $33 per hour.

Find nutrition jobs.

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Shopify developers build e-commerce sites using Shopify. They build everything from the visual storefront to the back-end checkout process. Depending on how complex the website is, Shopify developers may create custom APIs and frameworks. Shopify developers work on both the front and back ends, keeping user experience and functionality in mind.

As a Shopify developer, you may build custom themes or work within existing templates. Shopify uses its own language, Liquid, to create themes, but Shopify developers may also need to know HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and JSON for integrations and APIs.

Shopify developer responsibilities may include:

  • Manage Shopify integrations
  • Create custom APIs
  • Improve user experience
  • Debug and test websites
  • Design and edit themes
  • Provide technical support

Median hourly rate: $20 per hour.

Find Shopify developer jobs.

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Content creators make graphics, audio, video, or copy for their own channels or their clients’. Some content creators have successful social media channels, blogs, or podcasts that they can monetize through brand partnerships or advertising–these are influencers. Other content creators freelance or work in-house for a client, creating content for the brand’s channels.

Content creators stay on top of trends and know how to create content that engages a target audience. As a content creator, you may choose to specialize in a particular type of medium, like video. Depending on the type of content you want to create, you may need to know the Adobe Creative CloudCanva, or video editing software.

Content creator responsibilities may include:

  • Negotiating contracts
  • Creating audio, graphic, video, or written content
  • Managing editorial calendars
  • Partnering with brands
  • Promoting products
  • Responding to comments and messages
  • Doing affiliate marketing

Average hourly rate: $20 per hour.

Find content creator jobs.

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Many people in their careers decide to transition into a new industry or position, and that’s OK. Changing careers may seem like a big hurdle at first, but it can present more opportunities down the road. Some jobs are needed across all industries, while others are industry-specific. You may need to go back to school or learn new skills. Changing your industry or current career can feel like starting over, but it pays off if you can find jobs that you’re interested in or that have higher pay and better benefits.

Research and reskilling

Changing careers sometimes means that you need to learn new skills and focus on professional development. Research the industry and specific positions you want to apply to and start closing the skills gaps. You can start taking online courses and earning certificates to make yourself a more competitive candidate.

Make sure to research the industry and positions you’re applying to so you feel prepared. The interview process may be different than what you’re used to. Interview styles can be more technical or behavioral based on the industry and the types of roles.

Building a network in the new field

Another important aspect of changing industries is networking. Becoming involved in the industry by attending networking events can help you make connections. You may find a mentor who can provide coaching and guidance as you look for a new job and establish yourself in the industry. They may even be able to refer you to a job at their company.

Marketing yourself

Before you start applying for jobs, make sure you update your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and portfolio with your latest experience and tailor them to the type of job you want. If you need more help, you can hire a freelance resume writer.

Think about what transferable skills you have and put them on your resume. While your past work experience may be different than what you want to do—many of the skills you learned are likely still useful. Organization and communication skills, for example, are needed in every industry.

This article originally appeared on Upwork..com Resource Center (Upwork is a company that helps businesses find talent and people find workand was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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