Poverty is something that I am all too familiar with. Throughout my life, I knew what it felt like to want for basic necessities like three solid meals a day, school clothes, money for transportation, and even enough funds to cover the rent.
I also learned that as a black kid living at the bottom of the financial totem pole, there are only a few options for improving your life: talent, The NBA or NFL, a mean hustle, or be really fucking smart and go to college. While certain talents and athletic skills are granted to only a select few, education should stand as the biggest equalizer between us all. That is what I was told in my youth, and subsequently, that’s the path I choose.
Now, two degrees later, I owe more in student loan debt than I make a year and I’m one paycheck away from being back on public assistance. Education is no longer the equalizer, and it’s time for us to push for certain measures that will prevent the next generation from falling into the “college swindle.”
Every year, millions of ambitious and hungry kids enroll in college, some are lucky enough to get scholarships that cover part of their tuition, others get a full ride. But most of us aren’t as fortunate. Our college careers are paid for with financial aid packages that include, Pell, Tap, and a cocktail of student loans. Some of us go to public colleges, others to private, and a few of us (I being one of them) are lured into the predatory for-profit college system. We work our asses off to make it through the rat race called the education system. And after 4-6 years of education, countless internships, and extra-curricular activities we walk away with a piece of paper and the loose potential for a job.
These graduates enter a workforce where the average worker is making $40,000 while graduating with an average of $35,000 in student loan debt.
With this salary and that debt, they are still expected to cover all of their expenses, start their own businesses, become property owners, get married and take chances, all while carrying the burdensome weight of student loan debt; even when considering helpful services such as debt consolidation loans, it’s unfair and should be a clear sign that this country has and is continuing to fail its young people.
The path out of poverty is closing, but we already knew this. What we don’t know, or haven’t discussed is how to deal with it. We don’t have to sit back and accept any of this, and while Student Loan forgiveness and guaranteed employment with jobs that pay a living wage may be a pipe dream at the moment. There is legislation that can be written and passed to do something about this epidemic. The following are a few suggestions for moving forward.
When I graduated from Highschool, I attended a for-profit school called Briarcliffe College. The campus was based in one building and had a total student body of 500. All of the classes took place on one floor. Tuition for this college was $26,000 a year.
Why does a college with one floor, in Long Island New York need to charge $26,000 a year to its students? What exactly is that paying for?
To stop cases like this from happening, we should pass a bill that would block all colleges from charging more than double what they need to cover their expenses as tuition. If it cost $10000 to cover all expenses. Students shouldn’t be charged more than $20,000 for tuition.
These schools should also be required to give a breakdown of expenses and an explanation for all tuition increases. If the tuition cost is more than double what it takes to cover expenses, students should be notified and given an opportunity to transfer (with an automatic admission) into a public college. Furthermore, these schools should be disqualified from receiving government funding.
Put teeth behind the rating system.
A few years ago, President Obama came up with the idea of an informal rating system for all colleges. This system should be modified to give schools a 1-5 star rating. The rating would be made up from affordability, access to job training, alumni, scholarship opportunities, and student feedback. Schools who had a rating of two or lower would be required to implement turnaround plans. If after two years there were no visible improvements they would risk losing their accreditation. If a school loses its accreditation, students who took out loans to attend these schools should no longer be responsible for payment. That debt should go to the failing school.
Lower student loan interest rates.
I have seen student loan interest rates as high as 7%. The interest rate for a car is 4%. We need to invest in our students. Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill that would lower interest rates for student loans to 1.5%. That has to be the standard.
Give student loans bankruptcy protection.
Right now, if you file for Bankruptcy, and you have student loans, according to Curadebt, all of your debt can be restructured. Your student loans, however, are not covered. Large corporations can file for bankruptcy and get out of paying thousands of workers their pensions, but a college graduate, whose only means to get help is to file for bankruptcy is saddled with their loans, even at the point of financial ruin. I don’t need to explain why this is wrong.
So here we are.
To those of you who are reading this, and like me are saddled with outrageous student loan debt, I see you. When we made the decision to go to college, it wasn’t to destroy our credit scores, and it damn sure wasn’t to handicap our future with crippling debt. It was our savior, our way out, our path out of poverty.
You didn’t do a damn thing wrong, you did everything you were supposed to do, everything the world told us we should do. We were swindled by a corrupt system and politicians who were too lazy or indifferent to speak up. We were sold a dream by college advisors and teachers who thought they were doing us a favor. Shady admission counselors lied to us about job opportunities and deep job networks. We didn’t dig this hole on our own, and I’ll be damned if we’re left alone to dig ourselves out. It’s time to get to work.