Why don’t we want the best for others?


I got a Pell Grant to go to college and it fundamentally changed my life. The federally funded financial aid lifted me out of poverty and, along with the help of a teacher, was the main support I received for going to college. Because a Pell Grant wasn’t enough to pay for my tuition, room, and board, I took out student loans, which in the 1980s had an 8% interest rate. Since my parents had little education, they did not understand what I agreed to when I signed the loan documents; Me neither.

After graduating from college, I attended graduate school for the next decade, except for a year after I completed my master’s degree. After completing my Ph.D. in 2000 the student loans had to be paid. At the same time I had a new baby, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, which had a higher cost of living, for my first faculty position at Georgia State University. My salary was $43,000. With rent, childcare, a monthly payment of a $250+ student loan and other necessary expenses, money was extremely tight. I also helped my elderly parents with money every month. There were no vacations, no perks, we rarely ate out at a restaurant, and we started building up credit card debt to make ends meet. In addition, we could only afford 3 days of childcare, which made working as a full-time faculty job difficult and put a lot of stress on our marriage.

In 2003 we moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and I started my second faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania with a starting salary of $58,000. We were in the same situation – nothing extra, little savings, creeping credit card debt and we were all the time working to cover household expenses. It wasn’t until 2008, when one of my books went on sale that our lives changed. How? I paid off my student loans, as well as the small amount of credit card debt we had.

I remember exactly how I felt the day I paid off the $23,000+ student loan debt that never seemed to go down no matter how much I paid each month. I’m still happy when I think about the day. I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders, I felt a sense of freedom. We took our first vacation; we had some wiggle room in our household budget. I often wonder how long I would have paid off my student loans – a price I don’t blame given the knowledge I gained in graduate school and the life I was eventually able to create – if my 2008 book hadn’t been right. sold. it would be well into my early 60s before the loans were paid.

Despite the fact that I have paid off my student loans, and despite the fact that President Biden’s student loan waiver plan is not perfect, I am happy for those individuals who have benefited from Pell Grants who are getting $20,000 in student loan forgiveness, and for those without Pell Grants who will benefit from $10,000 in loan forgiveness. Student loan forgiveness is not a panacea, and more money is definitely needed to support Pell Grants for current students. However, I remember the relief I felt to pay off my student loans with a check for $23,000+. I remember being able to take my first vacation after working 80 hours a week for so long. I remember soon enough we were able to save enough money to make a small down payment on a house — a 900-square-foot home that we lived in — and start a college education fund for our daughter.

Yes, I’ve paid off my student loans, but I don’t begrudge those who will benefit from student loan forgiveness. We all benefit when more people do well – when individuals and families can live comfortably, have adequate food and safe housing, and enjoy life to the fullest. We also benefit from the education of others as a nation. Why? Because education leads to better informed citizens, who contribute to the economy at a faster rate and generate more tax revenue. We would like others to succeed, including the more than 8 million people who will benefit from President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.



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