By Briana Schwabenbauer
November 10-18 is
My name is Briana Schwabenbauer, and I am a student at UW-Madison studying elementary education. To earn my degree in education and follow my dream of being a teacher, I borrowed $17,000 in loans and I will have paid back $46,000 with interest in the next 20 years. To me, it is worth it. I need this education to become a high-quality teacher who helps students learn and achieve their highest potential. I figured this wasn’t just money I was spending on myself, it was money invested in the hundreds of students that come through my classroom door to be inspired and supported by me. I know that my education at UW-Madison is going to prepare me to be the best teacher I can be.
Last month, U.S. Senate Republicans blocked a bill to help student loan borrowers refinance our student loans at lower interest rates, just like homeowners can do with their mortgages. That bill would have helped me — and tens of millions of other Americans — manage the student debt that we’re drowning in.
In turn, I would like to be supported by our lawmakers. Students like me are counting on them to invest in college affordability. We are depending on them to expand income-based repayment programs, so that teachers can actually afford to make their loan payments and pay rent. We need them to expand public-service loan forgiveness. Nobody becomes a teacher for the money, but we at least need to be sure we can pay our bills after we land our first jobs.
I took NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign pledge at nea.org/degreesnotdebt so that I could raise my voice alongside tens of thousands of other educators, students, and parents calling for solutions to the student debt crisis. Please join me!
Key points about student loan debt:
- At current levels, student debt isn’t just a burden; it’s becoming a barrier to the American Dream.
- Current federal programs to ease student debt burden include both income driven repayment plans, and loan forgiveness programs for those who work in public service – including teaching.
- Income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness programs ensure that all Americans can be teachers or social workers or police officers.
- One-fourth of the workforce may be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, but many qualified borrowers are often not aware of their debt repayment options; this is why NEA has launched Degrees Not Debt to support students, educators, education support professionals, their families and communities.
- As the U.S. becomes more diverse and income inequality grows, public service shouldn’t only be a career option for those who can afford it.
- You shouldn’t need to have millions in your pockets to fuel the public service in your heart.
The rising problem:
- Existing student debt exceeds an astounding $1.2 trillion.
- Nearly 40 million people in the U.S. have student debt.
- Seven out of 10 college graduates graduated in 2013 with debt, an average $29,400 each.
- The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau estimates that 33 million Americans may be eligible for federal income-driven repayment programs to help them manage their student debt, but enrollment remains low due to burdens of enrollment and poor promotion of the program.
- We know that student debt disproportionately affects poor Americans, and restricts their opportunities to pursue college and careers.
- We also know that too many young people are turning away from careers in public education because they believe they can’t afford it.
- Enhance federal loan forgiveness programs for those who choose careers in public service, and expand them to include faculty and staff at all levels of employment at colleges and universities – including contingent faculty.
- Increase need-based federal aid, like Pell Grants, which now cover less than one-third of the cost of attendance at public four-year universities; especially for minority-serving institutions.
- Help students get their degrees faster by reinstating year-round Pell Grants.
- Make student loans more affordable, by allowing federal student loans to be refinanced when interest rates decline instead of balancing budgets on the backs of our students.
- Streamline federal loan repayment plans to create a single, income-based option with affordable monthly payments for struggling borrowers.
- Restore federally subsidized loans for graduate students.
- Re-invest state funds in higher education. As of May 2014, 48 states are still spending less per higher education student than they did before the recession.
- Promote and educate those who aspire to be educators to take advantage of TEACH grants.