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BOB MOON: It’s that time of year, when deadlines start for taking out college loans. Of course, it’s hard to realize when you’re 18 years old, just how long you might be carrying all that debt around. Youth Radio’s Patrick Johnson is one of many young Americans who would like to see college costs contained. He graduated three years ago, but he’s still dealing with the debt.
PATRICK JOHNSON: The late Notorious B.I.G. once rapped that black men have two lucrative career options: “Either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you have a wicked jump shot.” This logic was later countered by indie rapper Murs: “You don’t have to sell drugs or make the NBA. It’s easy to get a grant and get an MBA.”
I chose the route Murs suggested. I attended Howard University, got a degree and also the debt that came with it.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a group of friends discussing student loans. And when it was revealed I owed almost four times more than they did, one of my buddies said half-jokingly, “You should have gone to a state school but nooooooooooo, you had to go off to Howard.”
He has two degrees and a teaching credential, and yet he owes a lot less than I do. And I only have a bachelor’s degree. This does not take into account the people I know who are making double what I make and did not go to college at all.
When I started college, the concept of owing tens of thousands of dollars was one that was hard to grasp. In some ways, it was too easy. You fill out some paperwork and next thing you know your schooling is covered. And if you’re lucky, there is some leftover for you to put in your pocket to cover your living expenses.
While student loans are considered by many financial experts to be the best kind of debt, it is still debt. This debt could follow me for the next 30 years or so. It will come up when I try to rent an apartment, buy a car and could even prevent me from being able to purchase a home.
Maybe it’s the reason why so many people I know with degrees have side hustles. At the end of the day, the amount of money they generate from their 9-to-5’s may be enough for them to survive, but not enough for them to rid themselves of the shackles of debt.
As daunting as it is to owe as much as most teachers make in a year, I do not regret going to Howard. It was the only school I wanted to attend and I received a quality education and developed a network of people who cared about both my personal and professional growth.
This, however, did not come without a cost. I am often left to ask: Will the debt I incurred ever allow me to progress? And isn’t that why we go to school in the first place, to get ahead?
MOON: Patrick Johnson graduated from Howard University in 2003. His essay was produced by Youth Radio.