OWhen I started college, I had no scholarships, no savings, no Pell Grant, no help from my parents…nothing. So one morning I put on my suit and tie, went to First National Bank in Kingsport, Tennessee, walked in, and asked to see a loan officer. I sat down and when my name was called I walked into an office and sat down with a man who asked if he could help me. I told him I needed a $100 loan on a 90 day note, secured by my signature alone.
He sat down, amused, and asked me why I needed the loan. I told him I needed the tuition and books loan for my first term at East Tennessee State University—$85 for tuition, the rest for books. He asked me how old I was. I told him 18 years old. You weren’t considered an adult back then until you were 21. He asked me if I had a co-signer. I told him no.
“How are you going to repay the loan? he asked. I told him that I had two part-time jobs. One was a youth worker at State Street United Methodist Church in Bristol, Virginia and the other worked in a warehouse for Lee Davis Oil Company in Kingsport.
He thought for a moment and said, “What about tuition for the next term?” What will you do then?” I smiled and said, “Well. Since at this time I have a loan repayment history, I will come back here and ask for another note 90 days I got the loan and started college.
The tuition didn’t stay at $85 for a full charge and later on some of my textbooks would cost way more than even that $85 tuition. For the first two years, I lived at home. For me, there were no frat parties, no sporting events to attend, no drunken Friday and Saturday nights. I couldn’t afford it.
After two years, I quit and joined the Marines. When I came back to ETSU, I had a wife and a child. I had the GI Bill, but it didn’t cover tuition, so I had to work. I took out a loan of about $900 which I repaid after graduation. It was hard. When I went through this stage to get my undergraduate degree, I was, for the most part, debt free.
I oppose the so-called cancellation of student loans. On the one hand, the concept is a lie. Tuition fees are not waived. It’s just a debt that will be transferred to other people. People like me and people who didn’t even go to college.
I agree that there is a problem with high tuition fees and partly because of the government and partly because of the universities themselves. The two are complicit in providing easy access to crippling loans. Most students who are deeply invested have not had good advice before signing these loans. Most don’t understand how debt and interest will accrue, and when graduation arrives (if it does), students who find jobs in their field will be at entry-level pay until they pay their dues and move up the ranks.
Minority students and lower and lower middle class students are often targets of predatory lending. And, if the student does not graduate, as is too often the case, he is still responsible for the loans. So, here are some of my thoughts:
(1) Those who grant the loans are responsible for them, not the taxpayer. The government has no money of its own. He simply takes it from companies or workers to pay what he deems necessary.
(2) Yes, the system is flawed and needs to be fixed and regulated. Of course, this could prevent some students from obtaining loans. However, students who already have loans signed documents indicating that they understood their obligations and therefore had to respect them.
(3) Students should have a clear idea of their goals and choose their majors accordingly. Some areas will require a master’s degree or higher, so keep that in mind.
(4) There are alternatives to private colleges and “big” universities. There are alternatives to attending a “party school” or joining a fraternity or sorority. If you’re in college to have a good time and not to prepare for a career, you’re not ready for college.
(5) Community colleges and trade schools abound and very often their graduates make more money than some college graduates. As of May 4 of this year, the AVERAGE annual salary for a trade in the United States was $57,204. People who earn a college degree in hospitality and tourism earn an average of $24,470 per year.
Theology and religion graduates (almost all of whom go to an expensive private university) earn an average of $31,630 a year. Teachers do better at $61,730 a year and social workers average $60,802 a year (I made less than $12,000 as a social worker doing the very dangerous job of a protective services worker from childhood).
One advantage for tradespeople is that very few of them have education-related debt when they start working. Oh, and by the way, the average salary for an enlisted person in the US Air Force is $51,943 plus benefits.
(6) Parents, please never sign or co-sign your child’s loans, whether for school, car, house or anything else, unless you are able to repay the debt in the event of default of payment. .
(7) Prospective students, please don’t work for a stupid major that will be a waste of four years because no one will hire you for that major. If you want to be a nurse, there is currently a shortage of nurses and you will have a great career.
I recently read an article about 10 jobs you can get with a gender studies degree. They were: journalist, teacher, lawyer, writer, casting director, human resources manager, non-profit program director, lobbyist, human rights activist and editor.
Well, no and maybe. To be a teacher, one must have a teaching certificate and usually a teaching diploma. Becoming a lawyer means several more years of law studies. I’m just saying do your research before committing to a course. If your degree is in “Classical Aramaic Literature”, you might get a job with that degree, but it will be regardless.
There is an awful lot of spending in universities which in my opinion is wasteful and unnecessary. But I don’t know, locally, how to change that. I know college is coming fast and many students are just not prepared.
But here’s the truth: college is doable, without decades of loan repayments, but know what you and your child are getting into. Some thoughts and plans may need to be adjusted and you may not be able to go to the school of your choice. ETSU, from which I graduated with honors, was my fourth choice behind Emory and Henry College, Tennessee Wesleyan College, and Hiwassee College. But I couldn’t afford any of these three.
As the great British philosopher Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want.” But you can almost always, when it comes to your future, get what you need. Without crushing debts.
And that last word – no one should have to pay your school loans. Not even your parents. If you did this, I feel your pain. I’ve made many, many bad decisions in my time. But you’re an adult now. Act like that.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). The church has worship services at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at [email protected]]