By Severin Pabingui

Ten years ago, I immigrated to the United States as an international student to pursue my master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence program that was out of reach in my native country, the Central African Republic. Being an international graduate student in the United States is a privilege. However; student debt is one of the major challenges which prevent many graduate students from successfully completing their studies and achieving their professional goals.

Like many underprivileged students, I can’t afford to pay the high cost of graduate school in the United States. I either need to win a scholarship or borrow money from banks to pay my tuition and living expenses. To this end, I explored an exhaustive list of financial institutions and sent them numbers of applications for grants and loans. But, I learned from this experience that as an international student my chance to get scholarships or grants is narrow and my access to school loans is limited. So, I had to work two jobs and attend evening classes in community college. After four years of consecutive struggles with financial institutions, I was granted a partial scholarship that paid half of my tuition and allowed me to get back to school. Without the scholarship, I would not be able to get back to a grad school and pursue my professional goal.

School debt is a disaster affecting the higher education and the United States’ financial system. On college campuses, I talked to many students who shared my fears, frustrations and narratives of student debt. I listened to their different stories about student debt and how this would affect them socially and professionally in the short and long term. Then, I shared my story of struggling with financial institutions and how student debt would affect my post-grad professional plans. Indeed, I plan to work as a community organizer helping students in underdeveloped communities gain access to a better-quality education. I wonder, can the non-profit work I set to do for the cause of education in underprivileged communities generate enough financial resource to payback my school loan?

I believe it is unacceptable to systemically burden students with debt because of the insurmountable cost of higher education. I believe, from my personal experience, that the higher education should be a right not a privilege and that graduate students should have more flexibility to access to grants and scholarships. This is an ethical question that needs to be addressed right now. I will stand for the zero debt in the higher education and I will give time and energy to make the higher education more accessible.

What’s Your Student Debt Story?