Born into a very Dominican immigrant household in inner-city Boston, I was never exposed to the financial circumstances that came with attending a university until I had to confront this decisive period in high school. Luckily, I didn’t have to face the overwhelming pressure of applying to schools on my own because of the assistance I received from programs like Bottomline, who were a great support system when dealing with the academic and financial pressures of college. Financial aid is an ongoing concern while attending school and stressful experience for low-income students who feel like they have to manage the costs of their future at such a young age without proper guidance. As a graduating senior, I am thankful for programs like Hildreth Institute who are stepping up to advocate for students who feel discouraged in pursuing higher education because of the proprietary value America has put on obtaining a degree. Proper education should not be at the cost of inheriting a lifetime of debt!
I remember my first day in college and the feeling of overwhelming happiness – I was the first in my family to pursue higher education. Coming from a migrant Mexican family and a humble background I didn’t understand the financial stress I would face as my academic career progressed. After I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree, I was eager to continue learning and earned my Masters Degree. Now as a young working professional a big chunk of my paycheck is allocated to my student debt. Education should be accessible and affordable not a heavy financial burden.
I am currently enrolled as a full-time student (Senior) at Salem State. I have always gone to school and worked part-time. The hours of work have ranged per semester from 26-36, sometimes hitting over 40. I do think about my student loans and it is stressful to think I’m thousands of dollars in debt, but as a senior, it is important to stay optimistic just to make it through the remainder of the year. Sometimes I think about if it would have been cheaper or better to go through a web development boot camp rather then go through the four years for a computer science degree, just because they teach you more practical skills rather then theory. I do agree with the idea of zero debt college because of a few reasons, one of which is that students just coming out of high school are making huge financial decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. I don’t believe the government should be allowing young adults whose brains are still developing to put themselves in a crazy amount of debt just because it is the “norm” in society. Especially since the job market is becoming scarce in certain fields every day.
“I’ll be graduating about $20,000 in debt, which while on the small side of many undergraduates, still weighs on my mind heavily. I knew the financial sacrifice I was making to be the first in my family to go to a four-year university of high caliber. Though, it is definitely going to impact my post-grad decisions. It’s already causing me to second-guess grad school (because how could I take on more debt?). It will keep me from owning a vehicle (because why would I take out a car loan on top of my student debt). It is definitely going to keep from saving for a house or retirement quickly, which I would have liked to do.”
“I attended college for two semesters, but I ended up leaving after my second because I felt that I’d be better off working full-time than being a full-time student. There are so many high school programs that prepare you for college applications and essays, but no one really prepares you for the financial aspect. College representatives that came to visit my school made it seem like financial aid would cover whatever families can’t afford which is so far from the truth. The loans I had to take out to supplement my financial aid put me in a really bad position financially and left me with a significant amount of debt after just two semesters. I can’t believe that so many schools put their students in this position and put minimal effort into keeping them informed about what these financial decisions really mean in the long run.”
I just graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Occidental College in Los Angeles. My college experience is a little different because I went to three different schools, dropped out, and transferred, mostly because of financial issues. My family knew nothing about loans and paying for school, and luckily most of my cost of attendance was covered by need-based aid, including government loans and grants. However, my first school required that I take out a loan for 20k, and I told my parents that it was too much and that I didn’t need to do that, but they insisted and took out a parent plus loan for that amount. Turns out, the following year tuition was raised significantly and I couldn’t go back to that school. So I dropped out and went back home to community college with a 20k loan that only was getting bigger. I decided to transfer to a school that offered 100% need-based aid in state and I transferred as a spring student to Occidental College. I qualified for Cal Grant and other grants the school offered and some government loans, so transferring made it so I could go to a liberal arts school with not many loans. Overall, I am happy I transferred, but I really should have gone to community college for two years considering it was 100% covered for me. A lot of my college grief stemmed from financial stress, in the last year of college I decided to go without a meal plan and cook all my meals to reduce the number of loans I was taking out. I also had a hard time getting a job because I was a transfer student and I went abroad. All those things made my college experience less fun and more stressful, but no matter how hard it was I knew I had to finish because my mom wanted me to finish. #ZeroDebt college would mean students like myself wouldn’t have to sacrifice their studies, health, or goals in order to afford higher education and skill-building. #ZeroDebt college is what actual equal opportunity looks like, not just people to fill diversity quotas.
I am currently enrolled for my third year in college. I am going to college through the Posse Scholarship, but as the semesters have gone by, even that plus the loans aren’t enough. I’ve had to help chip in since sophomore year, so now I’m even more mindful about how I spend because a huge chunk of my money is gonna be taken out every now and again. I thought I wasn’t gonna be able to be on campus one time, and that was the same year I became an RA for my college. My dad tells me not to worry about finances and to focus on my studies, but my reality comes up in explicit and implicit ways. Being Black and Latinx has had its oppressive obstacles long before I was born, but it says something when I have to work my ass off to get TO college, work my ass off to get THROUGH college, and then pay back the loans for the years I’ve been undermined as a student of color on campus. You can feel who worked their ass off to have a spot at Wheaton and who has generational wealth that paid through their time in college and allowed them to do whatever they want. They can sit on their asses, not do assignments, not care about the state of our world, but I have to pay with borrowed funds, take time to advocate for equity on my campus, and then explain to people that I don’t have to justify the reality of being a Black Latino from the Bronx. There’s also an extra issue of thinking about, “Where does my money that I have to cling on to dear life go? Clearly, it’s not going to the things I need it too, but I guess my opinion doesn’t matter because my funds came from the government and not from my generational back pocket.
“My family’s financial situation suddenly collapsed my senior year of undergrad, making wonder if I had made a mistake pursuing my dream to become a social worker. Graduate school didn’t consider these changes in my aid package, and as a result, I had to take out private loans as well as federal loans. Knowing I’m going to struggle to pay off my student debt, and especially with interest, I have had to battle between my vocation and my financial options over the past few months. I was always promised that college would open doors for me, but sometimes it feels like the tolls are too high to even enter.”
“The steep cost of attending college is not only burdensome but crippling for our country’s future generations. As someone who is aspiring to further my education beyond my bachelor’s degree, I am constantly thinking about how I will be able to afford my schooling without putting further strain on my family, as they have already sacrificed a great deal to support me during my time at UMass Amherst. The fact that high costs prevent so many talented and bright young minds from attending college is unacceptable. Education should be a right, not something that only the rich can pursue. I support a debt-free future because I believe in education as a tool to change the world for the better.”