The month of June brought good news and bad news for the 40 million Americans struggling with student loan debt.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s commonsense bill to allow those with student loan debt to refinance at a lower rate while asking the wealthy to pay their fair share failed to pass in the Senate. However, in June, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to make student debt more manageable for millions.
While strides are being made, it’s vital to remember what student loan debt means for middle class families, for educators and the students themselves.
Gabriela Rodriguez was struggling as a single mom ten years out of high school when she decided to pursue a college degree and realize her dream of becoming a teacher.
“By the time I got my first teaching job, I owed as much money in school loans as my yearly salary—$37,000,” said Rodriguez.
Now, it is time for her oldest son to start college, and two years later, her youngest
son will graduate high school.
“Here I am today, barely making ends meet, paying almost $500 a month in school loans, and signing my life and future savings away in order for my son to pursue his dream college education. I constantly lie awake wondering how am I going to pay for all of this. When will I see the day when I will be able to stay above water financially?”
Rodriguez is certainly not alone—more than 70 percent of America’s students borrow money to attend college, and the average student graduates from college owning nearly $30,000.
Whitney Guess is an early childhood education teacher who always knew that teaching was for her.
“I absolutely love what I do, and I love seeing my kids minds soak up and expand with knowledge. I live to see those light bulb moments kids have,” said Guess.
But despite her love and dedication to her classroom, her debt is looming. In order to improve professionally, she went back for her master’s degree and now owes nearly $50,000 in student loans.
“I have a fear of how high my monthly repayment fee will be and how long it will take me to actually pay all of my debt back when I do finish my masters. I worry about whether or not I will be able to make the monthly payment. Any way you look at it, I’m stuck with this huge amount of debt that has its grip on a lot of aspects of my life,” said Guess.
“Don’t get me wrong, my job is my life and I would not trade it for anything. But when a person has this huge debt cloud floating over their head, it kind of stinks.”
Cindy Reyes teaches at a Title I in Texas where student loan debt is hurting her in the classroom.
“As much as I love education and would love to earn an additional academic degree, I can’t afford to do so,” said Reyes.
Our union is working to address this issue, impacting both our members and the students we serve at MSU, through the NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign. The campaign has drawn great attention from Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, many congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, and even the White House has been tweeting the union’s campaign using the hash tag #DegreesNotDebt.