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.