Bogalusa, the Louisiana town where I was born, is far from an example of economic success or upward mobility. With high unemployment and abject poverty, education is the only option for individuals who want to move beyond the community.
I was born to a teenage mother who, despite having a child when she was still a child herself, worked hard to achieve more than was expected in Bogalusa. She was fortunate to have hard-working parents who supported her, and she earned a scholarship to attend Louisiana State University. Yet, my mom had to take on the burden of significant student loans. My stepfather, son of a schoolteacher and an electrician, found that he, too, had to take out sizable loans. Years later, I was fortunate that my parents made sacrifices that took me away from Bogalusa to Houston, where I had exposure to more opportunity.
Going to college was seen as mandatory in my family. But, when they looked at just how much higher education would cost, their zeal for sending me to get my degree was dampened. Simply put, the $52,000 in tuition and fees at a university in Boston — a school I loved and wanted to attend — were too much for my parents to pay. Even with a partial scholarship, the education I sought was unaffordable for us. Like many middle-class Americans, my parents did not make enough to pay for my school, out-of-pocket, but earned too much for me to get enough financial aid. So, I had to take out student loans.
I was blessed with parents who helped pay for my education, despite still paying off their own student loans. I was also fortunate to work at on-campus jobs that helped ease the financial burden on my family. It was a lot to manage on top of being very active in campus leadership and having a rigorous course load, but somehow we found a way to make it work.
My time in college did not come without its share of problems, though. I had medical issues arise that required test upon test and numerous hospital visits in search of answers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mounting financial burden became huge: my family was forced to decide if I would get the treatment I needed or continue paying for school. This choice is not one that any family should have to make.
We are told from an early age that college is the commodity necessary to have a stable, solid lifestyle and to be contributing members of society. The reality is, though, that college expenses are so great that many, including me, will have to work that much harder for years to get ahead of the tens of thousands of dollars we’ve had to take out in loans. It is a sobering thought, but one that we must face.
What other choice do we have?
Dexter L. McCoy graduated from college in May 2014. He recently attended a conversation on college affordability with Sec. Arne Duncan and Dr. Jill Biden, where he discussed his experiences with student loan debt.