Future educator to Congress: “We Want Degrees, Not Debt”

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by Alexis Ploss, this article originally appeared on NEA.org

My name is Alexis Ploss. I’m a sophomore at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire, studying to become a high school physics and astronomy teacher.

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I have been so inspired by the teachers I’ve had. They come in day after day with great enthusiasm. Their passion to help their students become the best people they can be is what drives me to become a teacher.

This dream, however, comes at a cost. By the time I graduate, I will be close to $100,000 in debt.

We all know college costs are rapidly rising. We’ve seen the figure that the average college graduate leaves school with nearly $27,000 in student loan debt. And we all know that adults with a college degree are better off than those with a high school diploma.

But what do all of the numbers really mean?

I’m a low-income student. I come from a single-parent household, and to make matters worse, my father is permanently disabled. We live on a very tight income. These numbers mean that I will struggle to support myself financially once I get out of school. They mean that I will have the constant worry of having to pay back an astronomical amount of money.

Not only is this impacting me, it is impacting my father who had to take out Parent PLUS loans to pay for part of my education. It is painful for me to see my father take out loans to cover the cost of my education when he has so little.

I know I’m not the only one who worries about this.

Many of my peers are facing the same challenges. We are told we have to go to college to ensure our success, but we are never told about all of the financial anxiety that comes with that. This isn’t an issue that is just affecting future teachers. This is an issue that is facing a majority of college students, no matter what major. We want degrees, not debt.

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Like so many other pre-service teachers, I find myself worrying about my future career. We are facing the dilemma of doing the work that we are passionate about or “selling out” to get a higher salary job to help repay loans faster. We should not be sentencing our college graduates to this reality.

Our nation needs more passionate teachers who will touch the lives of our children. I know so many students who won’t give up on their dream to teach, and I am incredibly grateful for their dedication. We need to work to make this reality more positive. Though the debt I’m accruing is monumental, I stay hopeful for the future because there are people all over this country, including so many of my NEA Student Program colleagues and fellow union members, working to help make college affordable for students everywhere.

It doesn’t have to be like this. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren pointed out in her propsed legislation to lower interest rates on student loans, big banks borrow at the very low rate of 0.75 percent. What have they done to help our economy recover and ensure success for future generations?

It doesn’t make sense to me that we cut banks a break on the backs of students who are struggling to afford the education they need. We’re the ones that can actually make a difference.

Can I count on you to stand up for the future leaders of America? It only takes a moment to contact your congressperson to tell them how important it is to lower student loan interest rates.

Alexis is a member of the NEA Student Program.

Reader Comments

  1. University tuition has grown exponentially over the years. We should insist that universities lower costs. We should find ways to encourage universities to cut costs. What sense does it make to pay $100,000 for a degree and then ask taxpayers to pay the bill? We should hold universities accountable for making sensible decisions regarding their programs.

  2. How about doing something about the 300% increase in college costs over the past 30 years? In 1988 I graduated from a private university in NYC. It was 14,000 per year. It is now 51,000 per year. Forget about making loans “affordable”. The Federal government made $84 billion on student loan interest last year! That’s more than Ford made in profits! If colleges were oil companies there would be congressional investigations. Come on now!

  3. This article is a mystery to me. Let me make sure I understand her correctly: She is currently enrolled as a sophmore in a community college. Once she finishes her undergraduate work, she’ll likely tranfer to a four-year college, to finish out her Bachelor’s degree. Then, there is one year in a teacher credentialing program. That totals five years. My parents never gave me a dime for college. I am currently a teacher, and completed school less than 10 years ago, so her scenario is almost the same education I did in here in Califonia. When I graduated, i had about $15,000 in student loans. Also, I lived on campus for one year (which increased my college costs), but I also worked part-time the entire time I was in school in various low-paying jobs. I just don’t see how anyone can responsibly spend $100,000 on a Bachelor’s degree and teaching credential. What many people reading this article may not realize is how the loan programs work. You see, they will loan you any anount of money you need (they will include “living expenses” in the loan) and they do not require you to show how you spend the money. I had college buddies who bought cars or went on spring break with their student loans. They borrowed way more than they needed, and figured they pay it back later. Sound familiar?

    1. Her article states that she is from New Hampshire. We have the highest costs for a State University in the country. There are lots of fees and different costs depending on the college within the system. It costs over $100,000 to get an education at our university. My youngest just graduated. With a summa cum laude grade point and unemployment within the family, we were never offered one scholarship, but were told to get private loans. She may not be able to live at home and get her degree as her family may not live close enough to one of our colleges. It is not California, it is not over 10 years ago and scholarships are limited. Her facts match reality in NH.

  4. Alexis Ploss, future educator and student activist. Manchester Community College is $210 per credit in state. Live at home, get a part time job, study hard. Lots of us have done this. Finish your degree at a 4-year state college & work part-time. Masters can be finished while teaching (it is possible) $100,000.00? Alexis, I was $100.000.00 in debt when I graduated with my doctorate, but I knew the cost when I chose to become a doctor. There are many options. Do well and you will be eligible for additional monies and maybe even scholarships. I treated patients 15 years, and have taught science about 14 years. Teaching is a dream job, so don’t make it seem as if the road there is some burdensome cross to bear. Teaching is looking for great teachers, not mediocre activists. We are in a deep hole because of our many activists. If you don’t like what you are going through now, you’ll hate being a teacher. This is supposed to be the fun and exciting part. Teaching is in desperate need of physics teachers. If you study and become good at what you do, student loans will be a drop in the bucket. But your numbers just don’t add up. $100,000.00?? I think that is the activist in you talking.

  5. I am a retired educator. I taught virtually all grade levels including undergrads. My take? And this response is indirectly related to the story. And I had no debt. Yes, I was one of the “lucky” ones from the Boomer generation. The biggest mistake in my life was teaching school. There are few other “professions” LESS rewarding than teaching school. Putting up with school politics, ungrateful parents, and years of rotten pay, I wouldn’t advise
    anyone to become a teacher in America. Paraphrasing George Carlin-It will never, ever get better…. accept the way it is or go into something else. One of the most unrewarding career paths on Earth. And a mountain of debt on the other end of your education.
    My advice-If you want to teach school, go overseas. I can name at least 6 countries from
    western Europe and the far east where they will pay for your education AND pay you well for your efforts! AND parents, children, colleagues, administrators, and politicians will treat you with the respect that you deserve. I was a sucker and a fool. Think long and hard before you jump into that cesspool.

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