Dr. Richelle Brooks has between $230,000 and $250,000 in student loan debt. She says she has been in higher education since graduating from high school.
“[I have] an Associate of Nursing, a Bachelor of Behavioral Science, a Master of Sociology, a Master of Curriculum and Teaching, a Science Teaching Degree, a Mathematics Teaching Degree, a Doctor of Education, and an administrative degree,” Brooks said. “And the last program I was enrolled in was a certificate in computer science.
She says she feels compelled to stay in school because it’s the only way to delay paying off her student loan.
“As soon as I get this bill saying, ‘Hey, your student loans would be due in six months,’ I’m going to find another place to go to school in another degree to achieve,” Brooks said. “I can’t afford it.”
Brooks was raised by a single mother in a poor community, and she says she thought it was okay to take out a lot of loans because that’s how she and her mother survived.
“There was no way out but to borrow money from where I was at the time,” Brooks said. “You know, I had no direction and I think that’s common with first-gen students. There’s really no plan. There aren’t a lot of people who know what you’re doing. .
Despite the debt, she loves and values her education.
“We have knowledge and access to knowledge,” Brooks said. “We are improving, which is good for society.”
Now she is a single mother and school principal. She says she doesn’t make enough money to pay off her mounting debt, but her situation is not uncommon.
Dr. Jalil Mustafa Bishop is Associate Professor of Education at Villanova University.
“I study issues of racial justice and movement building in higher education with a particular focus on the student debt crisis,” Bishop said.
Bishop recently authored a report that focuses on the experiences of black students with their student loan debt.
“Sixty-six percent of those who responded to our survey regretted their student loans, nearly half said they had not experienced a positive return,” Bishop said. “In an interview, they explained that student debt is often not an option. They felt like they had done something they were required to do if they were to experience mobility if they were to gain access to higher education and have an opportunity for some of the promises which, according to us, will come with borrowing student loans and getting your degrees.
Bishop points out that income-based repayment plans are part of the problem.
“Black borrowers were having their payments adjusted to be ‘affordable’, but their payments weren’t enough to cover both interest and principal, so they were making payments for 10 or 20 years, but still seeing their student debt balance increase. every year while struggling to manage their payments,” Bishop said.
Black borrowers refer to these payment plans as a lifetime debt sentence.
“When we look at black students 20 years from now, they still owe about 95% of the student debt balance,” Bishop said. “When we look at white students 20 years from now, they’ve actually paid off 93% of their student debt.”
Dr. Armen Henderson works with Jalil as part of the Debt Collective, a membership-based union that aims to transform the individual financial struggle.
“It was just the narrative is if you want to pick yourself up by your boots, you have to go to school and the jobs will be there, the recession will be over, etc.,” Henderson said. “And it was ‘t, it wasn’t like that.
Henderson says black communities need to work even harder to be successful.
“I worked while I was in medical school,” Henderson said. “I was on food stamps when I was in med school and, you know, my dad became homeless and my brother became homeless when I was in med school.”
He is the first in his family to become a doctor, but he also has a debt of 250,000 dollars.
He says he is unable to make significant payments on this debt because he has to support his family.
“Now when I go to apply for a loan for a house and things of that nature or to start a business and things, you know, people look at this heavy debt that I have on my shoulders,” Henderson mentioned.
Both Henderson and Brooks are asking for debt cancellation to fix what they see as racial injustice. However, none of them regret their degrees.
“There is a need, definitely, for black academics,” Henderson said. “It’s really necessary. I just think it costs too much.