Last week, I had a long and uncomfortable discussion with my financial aid adviser—or better put, the debt liaison—about how my two years as an undergrad will put me close to $25,000 in debt.
“Brandon, the university meets [each student’s] full need,” she touted. But, after tallying up the cost of my attendance on her oversized calculator and delivering to me the unfortunate news, I replied, “When did poor people start needing debt?”
This event led me to think back to my time on the track and field team in high school. I wasn’t the world’s fastest, but I ran in the 4 x 400 meter relay. During every practice and track meet, my coach emphasized the importance of placing a good starter, with good acceleration and balance, as the first leg. This runner is often referred to as the “lead-off leg” because the person is responsible for getting the team out in front.
The United States also has a lead-off leg: newly minted college graduates.
These graduates are tasked with, and often take on, the responsibility to compete in a highly competitive global market. But, the average student loan debt for bachelor’s degree recipients is $26,600.
This debt has surpassed credit card debt at nearly $1 trillion, limits accessibility to a college education for those who need it most, and remains a hurdle that prevents college graduates from having the start they need—making it nearly impossible to put #TeamAmerica out in front.
This hurdle is even greater now for low and middle-income families. Though these students have earned the opportunity to attend college on the same playing field as their peers, their cost relative to income is three times as high as those who are well off.
If equality is about giving everyone a pair of shoes, equity is about providing each person with a pair that fits. What would be the point in giving each runner on my track team new shoes without asking for their shoe size?
My classmates and I have the privilege of attending a high-quality university. Many of my high school friends from the ‘hood didn’t make it to college despite their hard work. But, providing low-income students with access to a privileged space while failing to meet their needs is similar to giving us a fresh pair of kicks that don’t fit. The result is that we can’t wear them!
I’ve worked hard to get to where I am today. After honorably serving five years in the U.S. Army, I wanted to earn a college degree. So, I used my GI Bill benefits only to learn that they aren’t enough. Like so many other students I know, I now work two jobs while attending college full time in an effort to make ends meet and not be swallowed by debt.
After the meeting with my liaison, I left thinking that one merely hopes that the hard work it takes to earn this degree grants me the sort of upward social mobility that it promises.
But like a friend of mine always says, HOPE IS NOT A METHOD!
Student loan rates are set to double on July 1, 2013, and students around the country are rallying on June 5—Student Debt Day—to remind Congress what’s at stake: a generation of college students who must be made a priority if we are to remain globally competitive and put the country out in front.
I’m removing my cleats and putting on my marching boots. Join me in asking Congress to not double our rate!