Why don’t we want the best for others?
I received a Pell grant to go to university and it fundamentally changed my life. Federally funded financial aid got me out of poverty and, with the help of a teacher, was the most important support I received to go to university. Since a Pell grant wasn’t enough to pay for my tuition, room and board, I took out student loans, which in the 1980s had a 8% interest rate. Since my parents had little education, they did not understand what I was accepting by signing the loan documents; me neither.
After graduating from college, I attended graduate school for the next decade, except for a year after graduating with my master’s degree. At the end of my doctorate. in 2000, student loan repayments were due. At the same time I had a new baby, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where the cost of living was higher, for my first teaching position at Georgia State University. My salary was $43,000. With rent, daycare, a monthly student loan of over $250, and other necessary expenses, money was extremely tight. I also helped my elderly parents with money every month. There were no vacations, no extras, we rarely dined out, and we started racking up credit card debt to make ends meet. Also, we could only afford 3 days of daycare, which made it difficult to work as a full-time teacher and put a lot of stress on our marriage.
In 2003 we moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I started my second teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania with a starting salary of $58,000. We were in the same situation – nothing more, little savings, rampant credit card debt, and working all the time to cover household expenses. It wasn’t until 2008, when one of my books had major sales, that our lives changed. How? I paid off my student loans, as well as the small credit card debt we had.
I remember exactly how I felt the day I paid off over $23,000 in student debt that never seemed to go down, no matter how much I paid each month. I am always filled with joy when I think of the day. I felt a huge burden lift off my shoulders, I felt a sense of freedom. We took our first vacation; we had some leeway in our family budget. I often wonder how long I would have paid off my student loans—a cost I don’t regret given the knowledge I gained in graduate school and the life I was ultimately able to create—if my book hadn’t gone away. didn’t sell well in 2008. I assumed it would be good in my early 60s before the loans were paid off.
Despite the fact that I paid off my student loans, and despite President Biden student loan cancellation plan not being perfect, I’m excited for people who have had Pell Grants who will have $20,000 in student loans forgiven, and for those who don’t have Pell Grants who will have $10,000 in loan forgiveness. Canceling student loans is not a panacea, and more money to support Pell Grants for today’s students is absolutely necessary. However, I remember the relief I felt when I paid off my student loans with a check for over $23,000. I remember being able to take my first vacation after working 80 hours a week for so long. I remember we were quickly able to save enough money to make a small down payment on a house – a 900+ square foot one we lived in – and to set up a college savings fund for our daughter.
Yes, I paid off my student loans, but I don’t blame those who will benefit from student loan forgiveness. We all benefit when more people succeed, when individuals and families can live comfortably, have enough food and safe housing, and enjoy life to the full. We have also benefit to of educating others as a nation. Why? Because education leads to more informed citizens, who contribute at a higher rate to the economy and generate greater tax revenue. We should want others to succeed, including the most 8000000 the people who will benefit from President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.