I’m back to paying Sallie Mae (the loan shark currently known as Navient). After a year of fighting for lower payments, I’ve finally gotten my payment slightly below $200, though I was hoping to get it below $150. However, given that six months after I graduated they wanted almost $700 and all of these years later, the lowest I’d gotten my payment do was about $360, I decided to accept this defeat with a whimper. So yeah, I paid them, then spent my long weekend on the couch. Sallie has taken my summer. BITCH!
Deep down, I know that even if someone would have told me about the financial disaster I was creating by going to college (I HAD NO CLUE), I still would have gone. When I look back over my life, I really don’t see another route to success. I wasn’t about the street life. I could do a decent freestyle, but I wasn’t nice enough for a record deal. I’ve never been even remotely athletic, and at age 18, all of my talents (drawing, writing, telling a joke, introspection) were there, but hardly formed. Plus, I always knew I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to make my money and go home, not juggle the weight and responsibility of a business. College was the only plan I had that made sense.
Desperation is why I’m so angry about my student loans. I graduated from one of the Art Institutes, which is one of the more well-known for-profit institutions. Most recently, you’ve probably read about one of their many lawsuits, or read about the for-profit company Corinthians, which recently shuttered their operations, most notably Everest College, leaving thousands of students out to dry. Remember those Everest commercials?! Pure fuckery.
Strategically, attending an Art Institute made sense. Unfortunately, my lack of understanding about finance, loans, and the predatory college business meant that my “strategy” didn’t take all of the factors into account. I literally only thought about “not going back to the hood.” As such, I signed whatever they put in front of me, and if there was an issue, I begged my financial aid counselor to “create some magic for me,” which they always did. Was it too good to be true? Definitely … but I was dead broke and my mom and grandma didn’t have any money. How else was I going to afford their tuition?
Understand, I’m not making an excuse for my ignorance, nor am I blaming these companies for it. I don’t think they should be at fault for what I didn’t know, I think they should be at fault for what THEY DID KNOW. These schools purposely recruited kids like me, and then did everything they could to keep us in their doors. They KNEW we didn’t know any better. What poor artist is going to turn down an opportunity to work in a brand new computer lab?! I saw those Macs and my eyes glazed over. By the time I figured out what I’d done, it was almost time to graduate. I was left with an exorbitant amount of debt and no real guarantee of employment, despite the guarantees they begin making the moment you step on campus.
Here’s reality for most people: no matter what college you attend: you are on your own after graduation and if you don’t get out there and hustle, you won’t make it. So why the fuss about for-profit schools? Well, coming from a for-profit institution, you have a higher chance of not making it, period. Time and time again, kids came into my classes with no talent for design. They hadn’t been properly vetted. You didn’t take any aptitude tests, or even get asked if you knew anything about the program. Few actually knew what they were getting into and once they did, if they felt it wasn’t for them they were often trapped – too far in debt to quit, stuck with credits that wouldn’t transfer. Not to mention, these schools often lack programs to help students transition. You enter the program assured the school has “strong ties” to the community and a week after graduation, you’re at a networking event confused. I’m not crying about grown ups having to be grown ups. I simply saying that you can leave a for-profit institution with few of the benefits afforded to graduates of traditional schools. Somehow, it’s harder for you, even though you have twice the debt. Because they are EXPENSIVE. I PAID for those shiny Macs!
With all of this being said, I suppose you can consider me a success story. Fortunately, what I lacked in understanding about the college process was offset by what I did understand about myself. I entered college sure of my career path, with a little bit of talent to boot. Most importantly, I was ambitious. I left college with the same drive I entered it with, determined to succeed. I also remained vigilant and while I really didn’t have the money to pay the loans, I at least remained in touch and transparent with Sallie Mae, which kept my loans from ever defaulting. Thankfully, today I can make my mortgage payment and still have something left over for Sallie’s punk ass. It’s not ideal. I’d have loved to spend that money on something fulfilling or put it in savings, but at least I’m not homeless for paying it. Overall, I’m grateful for the life I’ve created with my education, even though I suspect I’ll never pay it off.
Of course, I’m only grateful because I rarely allow myself to process the memory where I graduated and my financial adviser told me I owed about $22,000, yet somehow in 2016, I owe over $60,000.