Educators share their stories on the student loan interest rate increase
by Mary Ellen Flannery
Time is quickly running out for 7.5 million Americans who borrow money from the federal government to pay for college tuition and expenses. In just one month, interest rates will double—and yet, once again, the Senate failed last week to pass a measure to freeze those rates for new borrowers.
In the meantime, Americans owe more money on student loans than they do on credit cards, and the crisis mounts. Without access to an affordable, high-quality higher education, it’s much harder for Americans to get well-paid jobs, buy a home, and send their own children to college. Entrance to college is a ticket to the middle class.
Who are these people?
Joanne Anderholm is a 50-year-old kindergarten teacher in Massachusetts who pays $550 a month for a student loan that will take her another 10 years to pay off. As a first-year teacher (this is her second career), about 45 percent of her income goes to [all of her] loan payments. “How can I live on 50 percent of a teacher’s salary? How can I help my kids go to college? How can I save for my retirement? I don’t mind paying my fair share, but why are we doing nothing to make college accessible for decent, hard-working people who are just trying to better their lives and make a contribution?”
Lynell Whitnack is a administrative support employee in a Pennsylvania school district who owes almost $100,000 on an associate’s degree in electronics. “I cannot see the end of that tunnel of debt,” she said.
Krista Hillman is a 37-year-old Florida school psychologist who is “still paying off these loans and will probably be doing so for the rest of my life.” She says, “Adding an interest rate hike will simply make college an IMPOSSIBILITY for most young people today. Our society is crumbling and this is just one more nail in the coffin for our future generations.”
Cheryl Howe is a speech language pathologist in Illinois whose student loan payments take exactly one of her two monthly paychecks! “I can not afford to buy a car or a house, and I consider myself one of the working poor. To top it off, the State of Illinois wants to take away our pensions!”
Kyra Knox went back to school in 2001, after her husband died, to “try for a better career for me and my family.” It took her nine years, but now she is a special education teacher in Massachusetts with “massive student loan debt that I am struggling to pay back.” Her daughter will be in college in four years, and Knox worries that she won’t be able to help her pay for it. “It hurts me as a parent to know I will not be able to help my daughter go to college, and it hurts me even more to know that she will be so bogged down in debt if she goes to college that she will be beginning a life in debt.”
Colleen Cawley, a highly-qualified New York teacher with degrees in special education, reading education, and chemical dependent counseling, owes a whopping $110,000 in student loans. “I will be paying this debt even when I retire from teaching in five years,” she said.
Tamika Bighead, of Arizona, says, “All my life I wanted to be a teacher.” But now that she is, the education to become a teacher has put her $75,000 in debt. Last year, even after making payments every month, her principle was reduced by just $70. Meanwhile, even with a master’s degree, she earns just $36,885 a year. “I can’t imagine paying more interest on student loans.”
Patricia Aube, a Massachusetts teacher who grew up in poverty and relied on low-interest federal student loans to attend college and break the cycle of poverty in her family, has another idea for Congress. “If my tax dollars can go to bail out large banks and car manufacturers, it is not unreasonable to request some of my money go to support others like myself. Investment in the future of citizens that are willing to work to make a better life for their families needs to be a priority of Congress.”
Michael O’Shaughnessy, a former Marine Corps veteran who teaches at an Ohio career technical school, owes $120,000 in student loan debt. “What do I do?” he asks. “I have debts and bills to pay, a family to support and the only profession I know is education?!?! Oh, and don’t forget, (I also have) $120,000 of debt in student loans…”
Michael Langton, a Maryland teacher, now owes $190,000 (and earns just $56,000 a year.) “I will be dead in my grave and still owe money,” he said. “I have not owned a home or raised a family because of this crushing debt. It has destroyed my life for the last 20 years….”
Betsy Bartlett is a public school teacher in California and a single mother to three children. “Teaching was always my dream,” she said, but now she “can barely make ends meet on a teacher’s salary, with three children to raise and the student loan repayments… Raising student loan interest is the worst solution possible. What we need now is to encourage people to further their education.”
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