Financing the Pursuit of the American Dream

As a proud graduate of a private institution, I understand too well the burden of student loan debt. I remember it like it was yesterday, it was an evening in Spring 2002 that I received my acceptance letter from the University of Miami, my top college choice! You could not have told me anything different, I KNEW that I was born to be a Miami Hurricane! I was ecstatic! Kerline Jules, the oldest child in the Jules family was going to college! I could not wait for this new exciting chapter of my life to begin. That was until the day I received my financial aid packet and realized that even with an incredible package, I still owed a balance. The full-time tuition at the University of Miami at the time was roughly about $32,000 a year, $7,000 for room and board and let’s not forget about textbooks. My excitement quickly dissolved into worry and then tears because coming from a low, single income household with three younger siblings, my parents could not afford to send me to college. What was I going to do?

A wise man once said that education was the pathway out of poverty and I strongly believed that a good college education was my pathway to the American dream. If there was a will, there was a way. I decided that I was not going to let money hamper me from attaining the quality education and opportunity that I knew the University of Miami would offer me. Though I was fortunate to receive a significant amount of merit and need based scholarships and grants like the Pell Grant, I decided to look into federal and private student loans as a means to cover the remaining balance. For me, it was a long term investment towards my future. After all, with such low interest rates, it was probably going to be the lowest interest rate on my greatest investment.

My story of financing the pursuit of the American dream is shared by millions across the country. According to the office of Rep. Karen Bass, student loan debt has outpaced credit card debt, auto debt and is 2nd to mortgage loans. In 2012, 1.5 million African Americans were the single largest group of student loan borrowers by ethnicity according to the White House’s Office of Public Engagement.  The Center for American Progress states that 27 percent of African-American students who graduate with a bachelors degree, leave school with $30,500 or more of student loan debt.

If education is an integral part of pursuing the American dream, I pose the question, is the pursuit of the American dream quickly becoming too far-fetched for low income families and the middle class? Can our young dreamers in today’s economy afford to go to college AND is the investment still worth it? Since 2000, tuition rates have nearly doubled and they continue to rise. To add fuel to the fire, college federal funding has continued to decrease over the years. With increases in cost of education, decreases in available federal funding and a struggling economy, my fellow dream chasers, we are in the midst of a triple threat crisis.

In addition, we are dealing with the likelihood of an interest rate hike from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 for new federal subsidized loans due to mandatory budget cuts. This was an issue America faced last year but was pushed back due to the upcoming presidential and congressional elections. With student loan debt now topping $1 trillion, changes in interest rates would have a significant impact on the monthly take home pay of those borrowers. So what do we tell our children when they are accepted to their top college choice, especially those of low income and the middle class? Do we tell them that American dream is just a dream, a fantasy that you can chase but will never grasp?

I personally was never looking for a hand out; what I needed was a hand up. The reality is I would not have been able to attend the college of my choosing had it not been for the assistance of my student loans. My college education has presented me with amazing opportunities and has afforded me the opportunity to work with national and global brands.

My name is Kerline Jules and I am happy to say that I am a proud graduate of the University of Miami where I doubled majored in computer information systems and finance and minored in business law. Unfortunately, today’s students are now majoring in debt.

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