by: Scott MacFarlane Updated:
WASHINGTON - The U.S. government is cracking down on college students and graduates, prosecuting more who have fallen behind on loans.
"When you actually get out into the real world and have bills to pay, you have rent, it really makes it tough," recent graduate Getachew Kassa said.
The economic downturn, a job shortage and soaring tuition created the perfect storm for Kassa and others in his position. A recent federal report revealed the U.S. government has hauled 279 people into court for not paying back their loans in March -- 25 percent more than the previous month.
There was at least one prosecution in Georgia.
"Students and parents should recognize that when they're taking a federal student loan that's being subsidized by the taxpayer, we emphasize: This shouldn't be taken lightly, because the government will collect," said Justin Draeger, of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
The problem is poised to get worse. Federal education data reviewed by Channel 2 showed 9,200 students in Georgia are in some form of default -- 9.2 percent of students statewide.
It’s unclear how the U.S. Justice Department is choosing whom to target for prosecution. Channel 2 asked the department why hundreds of Michigan and California students have been hauled into court, and only one in Georgia, but officials have yet to respond.
Separate reports say some federal prosecutors are more aggressive than others. If Atlanta-area colleges see another surge in students unable to pay their loans, about twice as many as are defaulting now, they could be booted out of the federal loan program.