Our Spring 2021 Scholarship essay prompt asked students to write about their thoughts on the student debt crisis, how it’s impacted their college plans, and what they would do to solve it. Hailey McTee is our first place winner, and she will receive a $1,000 scholarship for college. You can read her winning essay below.
Alissa Greene is a senior at Lake Nona High School as well as a dual enrollment alumna from Valencia College, both located in Orlando, Florida. She has two amazing parents and an equally amazing little brother. Her interests include visual arts, science, music, volleyball, and track & field. Her goal in the future is to become a genetic counselor. She hopes to use fundraisers, charity events, and other forms of community service to help students of all ages to enjoy the field of science!
Many would agree that college—for better or for worse—is filled with a whirlwind of adventures. There are parties, clubs, Greek life, research and internship opportunities, and the most significant, the ability to receive your hard earned diploma at the end of it all. As memorable as these experiences are, they are very expensive in the long run. Growing up, high school and college entertainment had never shown the underlying financial ups & downs of striving for higher education. As a current high school senior and dual enrollment student with my Associates of Arts degree, I have come to realize just how pricey attending college actually is.
Student debt has impacted millions of individuals across the United States. Surpassing $1.7 trillion in student debt in 2020, the U.S sets its sights on proposals for how to solve this problem, such as halting and forgiving loan payments all together during the current COVID-19 pandemic. A more thorough example of this would be the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) office of Federal Student Aid has worked with the CARES Act to relieve ED-owned student loans, including loan payment suspension, 0% loan interest, and much more. Though through the prevalent doubts and uncertainties, millions still wonder what will become of their student debt and how it will affect the next generation of college students.
Even with relief set in place, you may be asking: how did student debt become so extreme? Let us reiterate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This catastrophic event has affected our ways of life, requiring adaptation from the many challenges that influence us even a year later. As of May 3rd, 2021, COVID-19 cases in the United States have reached up to 32,425,619 individuals and counting. With an unfortunate 577,055 of Americans succumbing to the disease and an even staggering 3,205,000 global death count, the Coronavirus’ unrelenting hold continues to plague our world. In terms of student debt, COVID-19 has caused many students to suffer not only academically, but occupationally and domestically as well. An example of COVID-19 induced financial instability in the workplace provided by the Brooks Law Group is Florida’s lack of workers’ compensation during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you contracted COVID-19 at work, and missed work because of it, it is unlikely that you qualify for workers’ comp. In order to qualify in the state of Florida, both the following criteria must be met: (1) You work a job that is high-risk for disease contraction (2) Proof you contracted the disease as a consequence of work. Between the ages of 16-34–those that typically attend or are soon to attend undergraduate and graduate levels of college—the total number of employed individuals is 50,618,000 as of 2020. Many of these workers happen to be students working to pay for college expenses, and consequently, must resort to the utilization of student loans to cover these costs. It is important to note the possibility that many students had/have the expectation of completing a degree program, taking out student loans to cover the overall costs. However, as the financial and health stresses of COVID rise, many of these students drop out or fail to complete their degree programs—ultimately going into student debt.
Social injustice is another issue that influences student debt. In recent years, social injustice has run increasingly rampant in the United States as well as across the globe. The effects thereof continue to hold minorities back from academic programs, socio-economic opportunities, and even their existence on this Earth. The racial wealth gap is no exception. The racial wealth gap is a concept that heavily contributes to the student debt crisis, and yet, fails to be recognized in many conversations as to how to fix this issue. Though the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have influenced a change in wealth gap data, many continue to struggle to pay for college education. In 2019, the median household net worth of all Black households was $24,100; median household net worth for all Hispanic households was $36,050; and the median household net worth for all White households was $189,100. As college gets more expensive, people are finding it harder to pay for their expenses. As a young black woman, seeing other minorities struggle to pay for college due to the racial wealth gap saddens me to no end.
The final reason for the extremity of student debt can be explained through the saying “no good deed goes unpunished”. What does this mean in terms of student debt? The government’s goal in making college affordable through federal student loans has caused a rise in student debt. Whether this is an unintended consequence or opportunity cost, an increase in federal aid has given colleges an incentive to raise tuition and other attendance costs in hopes of acquiring as much money as possible. In his 1987 New York Times article entitled Our Greedy Colleges, former U.S Secretary of Education William Bennett states, “If anything, increases in financial aid in recent years have enabled colleges and universities blithely to raise their tuitions, confident that Federal loan subsidies would help cushion the increase.” Even after 34 years, many individuals notice the rise in tuition rates caused by the increase of federal financial aid. Since then, tuition has increased by 3% annually leaving almost 70% of the senior graduate students who borrow for school with nearly $30,000 in debt as of 2019. Though tuition does not solely rise due to student loans, both are inversely related, affecting millions of students across the country. Addressing the cost of college itself rather than its affordability through student loans would be a more efficient alternative to solve student debt in the U.S.
I strive to avoid student debt—much more relying on student loans all together. Part of what has made my college application experience overwhelming is figuring out a more efficient way to manage my finances for the upcoming years of my life. Whether this is achieved through scholarships, financial aid, or grants, ensuring I refrain from becoming a statistic of student debt is heavily on my mind. One way I alleviated these worrisome thoughts was through dual enrollment. By meeting the eligibility requirements set by the Florida Department of Education, I was able to complete 60+ credits of college, earn my AA degree, and save thousands of dollars for free. This is where my luck has run out. I will be attending college independent of high school which means it is time to start making very important financial decisions. Both my mother and father have graduate degrees, but their debt to income ratio due to student loan debt is so high that they are unable to aid significantly with my college expenses. My road to college is still in its early stages despite having my first two years completed, but the student debt crisis has already taken a hold on my pathway to higher education.
If I were able to take charge and combat the student debt crisis, I would do it through the expansion of social programs—more specifically that of education. By increasing government expenditures on education and resources thereof that help individuals become knowledgeable on economical concepts like saving, loans, investment, etc., students will be able to avoid–or at the very least comprehend the consequences of–student debt. The reallocation of federal funds away from major sections such as the military and law enforcement allows for the avoidance of student loan debt and a rebuttal to the increased tax argument.
College for many was or is a very memorable experience filled with a whirlwind of opportunities and adventures. However, factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, social injustice, and the rise in tuition costs has caused many of these individuals to face large sums of student debt. As someone attending college soon, the overwhelming fear of what is in store for me financially dawns on me every day. Be that as it may, we students of the future have the ability to use our voices, ideas, and solidarity to advocate for solutions to student debt. All in all, ensuring citizens have affordable access to education, resources to acquire employment in the field their college degree qualifies them for, and sufficient money to sustain themselves and their families is worth much more than any college tuition.