When I was young, I convinced myself that signing up for college was the best way for me to avoid being poor. Yet somehow how I still ended up poor.

I was raised by a single mother who did her best to make sure that my brother and I had everything we needed. At times my mother, who didn’t have a college degree, would work two or three jobs to support us. I grew up believing, as President Obama put it 2015, that a college degree was the “surest ticket to the middle class, and beyond.”

So I scrapped and saved and took out loans to get one. Not only did I graduate with a high GPA, I was a graduate assistant, involved with campus ministry and other clubs, and completed numerous internships while working a part-time job.

Today I have a master’s degree and I still am poor. Why is this?

For starters, there’s the student loan payment that haunts me every month. Each time I make that payment, I realize again why some of my peers chose not to attend college.

According to Student Loan Hero, Americans owe approximately $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 43 million borrowers. The average class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, which is up 6 percent from last year — and an all-time high.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Finding a well-paying job, or even an internship that might lead to one someday, can mean potentially having to relocate, often to high-cost coastal cities where affordable housing is virtually impossible to come by. Then there’s car insurance, cell phone bills, and ordinary expenses like groceries — all of which get squeezed by the outrageous student loan bill I have to pay every month.

A college degree should serve as a stepping stone — a bridge to the next step in a career. But for those of us who didn’t get jobs in the fields we’d planned on, it’s more like a ball and chain. When I drifted away from the business career I’d originally imagined for myself and decided to pursue social justice activism, my degrees became little more than a debt burden.

As I grow and mature, I realize that I am a student of life. College creates robots that are experts in the area in which they study. But that doesn’t guarantee any kind of job — and it makes it extremely expensive to change course, which happens naturally over the course of most people’s lives. It certainly did in mine.

Instead, it just guarantees debt.


Brandon Ward is a Next Leader with the New Economy Maryland project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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