Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit as part of the HuffPost College Student Debt series.
I joined the military right out of high school with naive hopes that my college education would at least be mostly paid for. I left the service, distinguished and honorably, in 1996 to attend undergrad at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. It was then I discovered that the GI Bill just barely covered my living expenses, much less my tuition, books, etc. I had no choice but to work during school to supplement my income, but also had to take out Federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans to cover my tuition. I lived frugally and was thankful for money I had saved and invested while in the military, but school would not have been possible for me without the loans.
But that was just undergrad. I spent the remainder of any savings and took out additional loans to attend law school at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, in 2000. By this time, I had completely exhausted my GI Bill benefits. Again, the loans proved indispensable and I could not have gotten my degree without them.
I've been gainfully employed now since July 2003 and have faithfully paid my loans down from a high of $70K down to the current level of $50K. But, having chosen a life of public service following graduation, first with the Federal government and now with a non-profit, it has been a challenge to pay off these loans and maintain a fair standard of living. Fortunately, I consolidated my loans during a time of record low interest rates, so I'm at least not paying what amounts to usury amounts of interest.
I value my education immensely and am thankful for all the doors it has opened for me. But from a purely economic standpoint, I often wonder if it would've made more sense for me to either stay in the military or start work right out of high school. It seems that we, as a society, put so much value on higher education. However, we've also made it so cost prohibitive as to discourage people to seek it out. When someone does make the sacrifice to seek higher education, they seemed to be destined to pay an exorbitant amount for it and will likely pay for it for the rest of their lives.