AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
While California's state budget woes have contributed to the stress on public university kids there, students across the country are feeling the squeeze in other ways. More than 7 million students could face a doubling of their federal loan rates if Congress can't agree on a plan to prevent it. At the same time, students of all backgrounds are coming of age in an era when the economy is always described as recovering, never recovered.
So with graduation coming up, how are they feeling about their prospects?
CAITLIN PETERSON: Gosh, not that good.
CORNISH: This is Caitlin Peterson. She's 23. We found her when we went to the University of Maryland in College Park. She's a grad student there in library and information studies. It's the kind of school where the shuttle buses have perky slogans on the side. They say things like - hey, recession, fear the turtle. That's the school's mascot, a diamond-back terrapin. But right now, students like Caitlin say the recession has the edge over the turtle.
PETERSON: Considering that we're all graduating with thousands and thousands of dollars of debt already to go into an economy that's not hiring, a lot of people are moving back in with their parents. A lot of people are working part time crap jobs.
CORNISH: Twenty-five-year-old Amanda Mason-Singh, same boat.
AMANDA MASON-SINGH: I have a lot of debt. I think it's over $100,000, though, because I've been through a bachelor's program, a master's program and now I'm in a PhD program.
CORNISH: And at the end of the day, you look at this economy and think it's going to be better, worse, middling? You know, what are your chances? What are you looking forward to?
MASON-SINGH: I think it's good. I mean, I'm still optimistic. Like, I think here...
CORNISH: You're still optimistic...
MASON-SINGH: Yeah, I'm still optimistic.
CORNISH: I just want to talk about that. You have $100,000 of debt. You're not sure you'll ever work. Like...
MASON-SINGH: Well, I feel very confident about, like, working. So I know I have an internship next year, so I'm not concerned about finding a job afterwards. I think it's just a matter of thinking of how much debt I do have and how much I will have to work in order to pay that off.
CORNISH: She's hoping she'll find a job with her doctorate in human development. Then, there are the pragmatists, just starting out or recalibrating their plans as the economy chugs along.
AKEEM ALADE: My name is Akeem Alade. I'm a current sophomore at the University of Maryland planning to major in civil engineering. I'm from PG County, Maryland, go Turks.
CORNISH: Akeem Alade started out planning to major in business. Seems like a good idea, right? Not according to Akeem's father.
ALADE: Before I came to college, he had me, like, read a couple of articles. And I read one about this girl who was like top of her class, valedictorian and everything, majored in business, but she couldn't find a job and she was like working as a waitress. And she was unemployed for, I think, about like three years after she got out of college.
CORNISH: Akeem didn't think he could argue with that cautionary tale. Meanwhile, 22-year-old Andrew Hanlon, he's placing his bets with a science degree as well, in kinesiology. That's the study of body movement.
ANDREW HANLON: With all the baby boomers retiring and everything like that, they need health care and physical therapists are one of the major providers of that.
CORNISH: You had a plan. That's a great plan.
CORNISH: Do you get the sense, though, that basically, your generation is walking into good, bad, what kind of situation?
HANLON: I mean, I think we got screwed over pretty good. But we know the environment we're walking into. It's not like we don't know.
LEV HELLER: It's pretty scary if you do think about it.
CORNISH: That's Lev Heller. He's 18, and even though it's scary, he's been thinking a lot about his generation.
HELLER: I think in a way most generations get a raw deal. I think that we think things are really bad at any given point. But the fact is, it's not really that they suddenly change for the worse. There's a new problem for every generation to deal with. And most of the time we have dealt with it.
CORNISH: Not surprisingly, Lev Heller is a philosophy major. And he has a plan to prepare for this economy, to spend more time in school. In his case, medical school. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.