I am a first-generation college student. Which now seems to operate as click-bait rather than a truly foundational identity trait. For anyone who is first-gen, a parent of a first-gen, or a younger sibling they understand the weight of that phrase and its impact — both the good and the bad.

Good, in the sense that college continues to be one of the best ways for personal upward mobility, in all sectors. Great, that I had a fulfilling four-year experience that granted me a space to discover foundational aspects of the world as well as within myself. Amazing, that my family is so proud and excited about the accomplishments I’ve made as a young adult.

However, a lot of negative aspects accompany the first-gen status. Much of which revolves around financing a four-year degree. FAFSA is confusing and tedious to practically EVERYONE, nevermind those who have never encountered financing college before. My mother and I were convinced that you had to pay to submit your application, learning later that FAFSA is fundamentally free of charge. Being first-gen means your parent isn’t going to say no to signing a parent-plus loan every year if that’s the price they have to pay to watch you walk across the stage come graduation. Every year I was learning in the classroom alongside other students, while also dedicating hours to the student finance office. Trying to figure out where this additional charge came from on my student account.

I’m so thankful for the fact that I made it through despite the roadblocks, I truly feel there is an immeasurable value to post-secondary education. And I have high hopes for the way it will shape other first-generation students. It is also with a heavy heart, that I look back at my experience with fistfuls of frustration. Parental expectations include educating their children around various aspects of life and adulthood, but what happens when this is your parents learning moment as well? College: “the best years of your life’” while also being the most anxiety-inducing decisions of life.

Working with Hildreth motivates a message that is near and dear to my heart: if we are to continue to expect students to reach toward higher education we need to make it accessible, affordable, and high-quality. Moving in the direction of #ZeroDebt isn’t ideological as much as it is necessary next steps. We’re seeing the inevitable consequences of high-debt on aging Millennials and now my generation. Time for a change.