By Rebecca Rose

and Chris McGuinness

Killeen Daily Herald

While pundits and financial gurus across the country debated aspects of President Barack Obama's announcement that he would reform the federal student loan program, students from the greater Killeen area reacted to the news, and how the plan could affect them.

The president said he would speed up a congressional plan to reduce the maximum required payment on student loans. For many students, the anxiety of facing mounting loans is

compounded by worries that their education may only lead them to a bleak job market.

At the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, senior Hannah White, a psychology major, had mixed feelings about the president's announcement this week.

"Part of me really likes it. I think it will be very good for students like me," she said. "I don't want to be paying for student loans until I'm 60."

For the past three years White has attended UMHB, a school she said was her top pick because of its small size and quality. To pay for the private school's annual tuition, White receives $12,000 in an academic scholarship, $2,000 in a leadership scholarship, and two separate loans from the government for $5,500 each.

White said she wants to pursue her education as far as a Ph.D., but the job market and economy have her worried about what is waiting for her when she finishes school.

She said her father, who works at Master Foods manufacturing plant in Waco, has hired people with bachelor's and master's degrees to work minimum-wage jobs in the factory.

"I'm very worried," she said. "It's frustrating knowing that I could waste 10 years of going to school, face years of paying off these loans and still not have a job."

The financial crunch also has caused the college senior to take a hard look at choices in her future education. To complete her master's degree, she said she is considering a cheaper school.

"If I had my way, I would stay," she said. "I want to go to the best college, but it's so expensive."

White said she hoped the plan would help students be able to pick a college based on what was the best choice for them, rather than having to settle on a school based solely on cost.

But she still had some reservations about the plan, and questioned if less stringent repayment requirements might encourage more people to take on debt.

"We could be in the same picture in the long run," she said.

Tough future

Over at the Central Texas College campus in Killeen, Aletha Pinckney, a second-year student studying restaurant and culinary management, said she wasn't clear on how the student loan plan would change.

"Any way to lower payments would be awesome, and I'd be OK with it," said Pinckney, who currently carries approximately $8,000 in loans.

"But that (amount) is going to get bigger, because I plan to transfer to get my (bachelor's)," said Pinckney. "So it's either stop my education or take out loans."

Regardless of her loan situation, Pinckney said she knows the future is going to be tough.

"Of course I'm worried," she said. "I can't find a job now. I don't see much hope for that changing."

Lack of information

In just her first year at CTC, Haley Olszewski has racked up $3,500 in federal student loans.

"If you want an education, you don't have much of a choice," she said. "I just had to get (the loans). There wasn't any way I could fund it out of my own pocket."

Olszewski said she felt like she didn't have enough information about the loan process when she started.

"I had to do it all on my own; it was hours of reading to understand what I was doing. You can just keep on clicking that arrow and getting more money," she said of the federal government's student loan website.

Now, the student said she worries about how she will pay back the money.

"Most of the (anxiety) comes from having all this debt, and wondering if you are going have a job to pay it off later," she said. "That's a scary thought."

While the president and others in Washington likely will continue to debate about how to insulate college students from crippling debt in a shaky job market, students like White will continue to question politicians' ability to change the realities they are facing.

"There's only so much the president can do," said White. "The money has to come from somewhere. The college deserves its money, the government deserves its money. (Students) know (they're) going to have to pay that loan.

"It's irresponsible for us to get into too much debt that we can't pay back," she said.

Contact Rebecca Rose at (254) 501-7548 or

Contact Chris McGuinness at (254) 501-7568 or

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