NORFOLK -- College graduation is a time filled with dreams of new opportunities but it's also payback time for all of those student loans.
According to the Project on Student Debt, 57% of college students in Virginia and North Carolina left school in 2009 with an average of $20,000 in debt and facing the highest unemployment rate ever for college graduates.
"Students need as much help as possible paying back their student loans," Joe Cooper, an ODU student told us.
The federal government apparently agrees. In 2002 the Student Loan Repayment Program was created to help the federal government to both attract and keep good workers. Back then, 690 government workers received a total of a million dollars to help pay off their student loans. But like most things in Washington, the program has ballooned. In 2009, 8,500 government workers got more than $60 million of your money to help to pay their loans.
"I wish that was me. I really do wish that was me," another student told us.
Then you might want to work in Senator Mark Warner's office. Four junior staffers are getting government help with their student loans. It's the only way '20 somethings' can live and work in an expensive city like Washington, D.C., we were told. The problem is not everyone in the student loan program lives and works in Washington. Also, government wages have gone up 60% in the last decade. That's twice as much as wages in the private sector.
Freshman Congressman, Scott Rigell ran on a promise to cut government spending.
"We're all cutting back these days and it needs to start with congress," Rigell said.
Back in December, Rigell told us Washington can't afford to re-pay anyone's college loans these days.
"We should pay a competitive wage and leave it at that," the congressman told us. But Rigell's office now tells us it hasn't yet decided if any staffers will be in the student loan program which pays government workers as much as $10,000 a year.
Chuck Dunn, Dean of the School of Government at Regent University, says the program sends the wrong message about personal responsibility.
”It’s a gross misuse of public funds, a gross misuse of public funds,” Dunn feels.
Some say if Washington is really serious about cutting spending, then the wages and benefits of government workers will have to be cut. That includes the help many get paying off student loans, a perk that's very rare for everyday workers.
As one concerned taxpayer told us, "I think everyone should pay for their own student loans. Why should I have to pick up the bill for someone else."
And you also are paying the student loans of staffers for Bobby Scott, Rob Wittman and Randy Forbes.