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Editorial: Class of 2019, the future is yours — and so is the debt
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Graduates turn their tassels during the University of North Georgia's commencement ceremony at the UNG Convocation Center in Dahlonega on Saturday, May 4, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

As college graduates celebrate all their accomplishments this month, the turn of the tassel is also a reminder they must now begin paying off an average of $28,653 in student debt. That was the average debt for 2016-17 in Georgia, which ranks 24th in student debt, according to the most recent study done by the independent nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success. 

As the high school seniors turn their tassels, they better be preparing for more of the same. That average is up from $20,098 a decade ago. And the cost of education continues to rise. 

The College Board reports that average tuition and fees in 2018-19 are up by $2,670 at public four-year institutions since a decade ago. 

Local graduates are lucky to call Hall County home, where the University of North Georgia can boast graduates with the smallest average college debt, at just $12,345, among reporting colleges in the state. University of Georgia graduates can expect $23,403 in debt and Georgia Tech grads $32,398. Graduates of Gainesville’s private Brenau University have an average of $34,058 in debt.

This year’s college graduates may have something going for them that previous graduates did not, though. They’re part of Generation Z, a generation that may be more financially conscious than its predecessors. 

While the millennials before them were prone to focus on passion more than pragmatism when it came to college major and career choices, Gen Z may be more concerned with financial security after watching their parents struggle through the Great Recession, according to Forbes.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Mandy Harris
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo

If they did focus on getting education and training for well-paying careers, perhaps they’ll better be able to pay off those loans. If not, maybe the politicians will save them. Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren has gone so far as to offer to cancel at least part of that debt for some, while several other Democratic candidates have discussed providing debt-free college. And Gen Zers are the most likely to say government should do more to solve problems, according to the Pew Research Center. 

We wouldn’t advise anyone count on that plan, though. The government’s track record with debt ain’t so great.

These Gen Zers have something else going for them, though. The economy. While many millennials graduated into the job market of the Great Recession —  and were then derided for living at home with their parents — Gen Zers are graduating into a booming economy. Hall County’s unemployment rate was just 3 percent in March.

And as they enter that workforce, they’ll be largely inheriting a post-baby boomers business world. The avalanche of change started by the millennials will forever alter the landscape and Gen Zers can build upon those tectonic shifts.

While the millennials tempered baby boomers’ dogged devotion to work, Gen Zers may temper millennials penchant for games, drinks and napping pods at the office. But both younger generations seek work-life balance. As digital natives, they are more familiar with the demands of mobile technology and could be better poised to limit its intrusions. 

Younger Facebook users are more likely to adjust privacy settings, take a break from the social media or delete the app from their phone, according to Pew.

Gen Zers could help set standards to delineate work from home in an age when work emails can reach us anywhere. 

Being the most diverse generation, they’ll bring new perspectives to the workplace. They may demand better benefits, greater flexibility and more respect for themselves and others.

While millennials were cast as self-obsessed and lazy, there’s hope the next generation can avoid the negative stereotypes attached to  its big brother and chart its own course instead.

This generation has grown up in a world where school shootings are so common our reactions have become cliche. They’ve only ever seen partisan gridlock at the Capitol. Affordable, sensible health care remains out of reach for many. And climate change threatens their future.

The world Gen Zers are inheriting may feel a bit like inheriting a garage full of junk from your great uncle, full of sharp objects, woefully outdated clothing and dusty cans of something likely dangerous to inhale or touch.

We need this new generation to set some standards before our world spins so fast and off-kilter that it flies off its orbit altogether.

We have reason to be hopeful, with Gen Zers like those featured inside today’s high school graduation section.

They’ve excelled in trade skills and the arts, in leadership and in service. They’re diverse and talented. They’re hopeful for the future. And we’re hopeful for their contributions to that future.

Whether graduating high school, trade school or college, congratulations to the class of 2019. May you find the real world hospitable, or make it so — and eventually pay off your student debt.

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