I received a 4.0 in high school, although I often worked 5 days a week, from 3-11pm, to help my family. I believed that my good grades and hard work would get me into a good college. No one in my extended family had raduated from college, but my mother always insisted that I would accomplish this.
My high school counselor told me that I should go to community college because my family had no money. This was the first of many times in my life when I decided not to listen to people telling me I couldn't achieve my dreams.
Since my family was ill-prepared to help me apply to colleges I found a teacher to guide me through the process. I was accepted at Scripps College, in Claremont, CA, and received federal financial aid as well as scholarships and grants.
I worked all summer to save money to buy my plane ticket to California. When I arrived at Scripps I was broke - I soon found out that the college expected me to have a substantial amount of money for books and other expenses. The financial aid office didn't know what to do with me. and basically stated I was in the wrong place if I had no family to help me financially. I persisted, however, and got the first of my private college loans, which totaled about $8,000 by the time I left school. I also worked 20 hours a week during college, while most other students used that time to study.
I later earned two masters degrees, in Public Administration from Portland state University, and in Teaching from the University of Portland. Partly due to the fact that UP's MAT year-long program does not allow one to have employment outside of the program, I ended up with $100,000 overall in student loan debt. [In order to continue teaching in Oregon, one must earn a Masters degree within three years.]
As a public high school teacher I was not eligible for any loan forgiveness program (I know of no positions locally that are eligible for this program). I consolidated my loans with Sallie Mae, and agreed to pay 4% of my income, which was all I could afford. This did not cover the interest, so my loans actually increased each year.
I assumed that I would pay on my student loans for the rest of my life, but as long as they were payments I could afford, I was all right with that. However, Sallie Mae, a privated company, began outsourcing its customer service and changing its policies, and became almost impossible to deal with. My payments suddenly jumped to almost $700 a month, a huge percentage of my take-home income, and I was in danger of being reported to the credit agencies and ending up with a collection agency.
I did a lot of research, and found the William D. Ford agency. Their repayment policies would enable me to continue making payments I could afford, and avoid ruining my credit. At that time, though, federal laws (which were just put in place) stated that I could not consolidate with them unless I took out new loans.
While I pondered my options and continued trying to work with Sallie Mae, I decided to call WDF one more time, and see if there were any other options...they notified me that federal laws had changed once again, and now I could consolidate with them right away.
Their repayment policies are flexible enough to work with my income, and they keep me from ruined credit.
Also, as a high school teacher, I witnessed my students receiving less and less federal aid over the years, while commercials for private student loan companies were plastered everywhere. I believe this is another example of unethical corporations preying on the neediest and most vulnerable populations, and the federal government letting them get away with it.
The best way to keep students out of debt is for parents and other family members to fund a college savings plan.
However, I know from personal experience that many great students who are deserving and are capable of making wonderful contributions to society don't come from families who do this type of planning. Imagine what it does to someone's financial and emotional life to saddle them with anywhere near this type of debt just as they are starting out in life.
I hope that more students find out about William D. Ford's programs, and that this agency is allowed to continue helping people finance education in a safe and sane manner.
posted 4 years, 8 months ago
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