An unnamed letter writer in the latest issue of American Scholar, a publication for Phi Beta Kappa members, explains how her “dreams of writing grants, starting a nonprofit organization” and making her community better are now all “drifting away” because of her $72,000 in student loan debt.
I was a social justice advocate throughout my undergraduate years, and today I am a published poet and author. I started a support group for women and children in poverty as a junior in college and volunteered around the world from New Orleans to China before I turned 21. I had big dreams for how I was going to change the world through social advocacy and writing. But when I left graduate school, my student loans entered repayment. In 2009, my parents were crumbling under their own debt as the Great Recession hit, and they could no longer make my loan payments. I worked in marketing at a major newspaper for two years but still couldn’t keep up with the payments (usually totaling more than $800 a month). I had to make a change.
Last year I landed a job in software in California, but the recession has hurt my husband’s career too, and even as I make substantial payments on my loans the interest keeps catching up to me. I should be saving for a house and a family. But after the rent and bills, the extra income I make goes to my loan payments. I can’t put money back into the economy because it’s going toward my student debt. The sad truth is that I’m in a better boat than many of my friends, who are unable to make student loan payments at all.
While it’s not clear that this letter writer understands the meaning of “entrepreneurial spirit,” since she seems to equate that spirit with grant writing and nonprofit work, it is clear that, in her case, the value of a college degree was oversold.