A Ph.D. candidate at Carnegie Mellon University thinks about his student debt every time he walks into the grocery store.
A former Westwood College student, whose for-profit institution closed before she earned a degree — but not before she took on plenty of debt — lives with her dad, can’t buy a car, and has a phone full of calls from collectors.
A nonprofit employee in Denver expects to carry a $440-per-month student-loan payment into retirement. She figures she might just die in debt.
Student-loan debt, our reporters in Colorado
heard, shapes lives. Borrowing money for college can open up opportunities — and it can narrow them, too, for those who struggle to pay it back. Debt, they wrote, brings people to tears. It makes them feel trapped. It brings them shame.
“I had this dream, and I was told at an early age that education was the key. It was the ticket,” one woman told Naomi Harris,
the higher ed reporter for our partner PublicSource. “But no one informed me how to do that so that I was not paralyzed.”
Dozens of people shared their experiences with student debt in response to separate requests from Naomi
and from Jason Gonzales,
the higher ed reporter at our partner Chalkbeat Colorado. They wanted to understand more about how the debates in Washington could affect lives in their communities.
Both Jason and Naomi say the stories they heard helped them see just how complex the issue of student debt is and just how deeply, and differently, it affects people.
“College is still a step toward upward mobility,” Naomi says, “but there are many problems with financing higher education that can pull students down.”
For Jason, one story that stood out was Shanique Broom’s. She’s on the verge of earning her doctorate at the University of Denver. Along the way, she’s racked up more than $280,000 in debt.
In his story,
Jason summed up the conundrum of many people he and Naomi heard from. They’ve been told all their lives that education is the path to prosperity, but no one really explained the costs or the choices they had in paying. And now they’re stuck:
“It’s baffling for Broom that bettering yourself comes at such a price — she felt she needed education to get a better job to avoid the fate of so many in her neighborhood,” Jason wrote. “Yet her debt forces her to scrape by.”
Broom, Jason says, is the example of a student doing everything they can to advance themselves. She’s a first-generation college student who went to Central Michigan University to escape poverty. While she was there she took out loans to replace work so she could stay in school full time and help care for her mom. But now she’ll be paying back the debt for most of her life.
“The question came up so many times: Who is college really for?” Jason says. “How do we ask students to take on massive sums of debt to advance their lives and then leave them in a worse place? It’s a question Ms. Brown’s story left me with.”