Like many others who graduated in the past few years, I decided to go onto graduate school to avoid the economic downturn. In May, I will graduate from American University with my master’s degree in public communication and enter a job market that is still in the doldrums. That degree comes with about $40,000 in student loan debt.

Like many others around the nation, my parents saved up money and pushed me to go to college. But, like many others, we didn’t save enough to make it through all four years of undergrad and my one-year graduate program. My parents knew we would have to borrow money to do so, but they did not want anything to stop me from going to my dream school.

The “ We are the 99 percent” Tumblr account features countless faces and stories of frustration with the economic problems our country is going through. A dominating theme is people who graduated from college with huge amounts of debt and are having trouble paying back their student loans while trying to make ends meet. Maybe it’s time to Occupy Higher Education.

My five years at American have been amazing, and I can’t say enough about the faculty and staff who are dedicated to giving students a great education. I feel prepared to face the real world in May, but the prospect of that student loan bill is already weighing on my mind.

If I pay out my loans over a 20-year period with an average interest rate of 7.5 percent, my monthly payments will be almost $200. That will likely affect what job I take and where I live, not to mention beginning the next chapter of my life. Like most college graduates, I want to establish my adult life. I want to buy a house, get married and start a family. But I don’t know if that is going to happen as soon as I wanted. 

I am not alone. The average student who graduated in 2007-8 had $23,186 in student loan debt, and the total amount of outstanding student loans is expected to surpass $1 trillion this year.

This is not the future that college graduates were promised. And it’s time for Congress, the Department of Education and higher education officials to find a solution.

This solution doesn’t involve making school free for all or simply forgiving all student debt. Instead, we need jobs and incentive programs that encourage college graduates to pursue careers in areas that will jumpstart the economy. This is the perfect opportunity for the government, universities and businesses big and small to work together to place college graduates into needed areas.

There is also a need for more education on the cost of a college degree and alternatives to loans. Just as parents and high school teachers lecture students about how to get their first credit card, they also need to educate them on the fine print on student loans.

Students need to know that their loans will come due someday. They will be responsible for the tab eventually. 

What do you think is the solution? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.