Just this May, I walked across a stage at Harvard Graduate School of Education and collected my diploma. Following a year of intense study, this masters degree came with all of the pomp and circumstance hoped for from an ivy-league school. But, this circumstance came with a massive price tag. In six months, I will need to start paying back my newly acquired $40,000 in student loan debt. These new loans are on top of my previous undergraduate debt, originally at $21,000.
If my family had to pay for my education, I simply wouldn't have gone. I grew up below the poverty line in rural West Virginia. I'm the first in my family to go to college and graduate school, and it's because of federal, state, and local aid that these dreams were able to come true. Student loans were crucial to pay for my school and worked as an incentive to help me complete it. Without my debt, I wouldn't be a Harvard grad and I wouldn't be fighting to make the American education system the best in the world.
Though policy makers may be concerned about my debt, I'm not. I'm bullish when it comes to higher education and, to be honest, I'm proud of my student debt. Every month that payment will remind me that I am fortunate to live in a country that lets young people take out these loans to pursue their dreams, even when their dreams aren't solely of financial greatness.
The Harvard price tag is daunting, but the scariest notion is that I'm going into public education, a field seemingly allergic to lucrative salaries. I'm proud to say that I will be employed with a comfortable working-class salary in September, but my loans will be omnipresent in my mind. Like most millennials, I'm caught in a catch-22. I want to do well financially, but the best way to do so is to incur massive debt now. Even though the rate of return on degrees is high, it's still no guarantee of a job and certainly not a high-paying one. The student loan bubble recently hit $1 trillion, and policy makers around the country are pandering to reform some invented crisis. They all seemingly ignore the fact that more and more people, including underrepresented minorities, are continuing their education at rates unfathomable before. With more students comes more debt, plain and simple.
As policy circles continue to debate the student loan $1 trillion number, I only hope that they recognize what students actually care about: getting a quality education and employment after. I may be bullish on higher education and feel unparalleled joys in academia, but I believe students have no qualms about paying back their loans. We just want to find a job that lets us pay our loans back without surviving on Ramen Noodles. Congress, work to create meaningful jobs after graduation and don't punish students by doubling the interest rate today. Millenials aren't looking for a hand-out, just a hand-up.
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