Student Debt Hinders American Dream for College Senior
by Missy Rubio
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in a neighborhood that was built in the 1950s where everyone’s parents worked as laborers, factory workers or were retired military veterans, or both. I watched my parents, a union construction worker and a waitress struggle to pay their bills, feed their children and live a “happy” life on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis. Neither of my parents graduated from high school, so in their eyes, if they worked as hard as they could to keep their children in “good” suburban schools, we would someday make it out of the cycle of poverty through higher education. My parents and teachers told me to just focus on my education and get to college. That was the equation to a better life. If I just went to college, I would achieve what my parents never had the opportunity to achieve, but my story is much different than the story they told.
What my parents did not know then was that my mother would struggle through cancer and lose and that my father would be permanently laid off from building houses as our economy sunk further into the depths of depression as a result of bad lending and risky wall street investment.
My father, alone and stripped of his job, his home and not to mention his dignity fell into a deep depression and left us for his home state of New Mexico after the bank staked the “foreclosed” sign into the neatly trimmed and vibrant green lawn he had prided himself on maintaining. As a second generation Mexican-American my father had, through years of labor in the union, made it out of the grips of poverty and achieved a version of the American dream, only to plummet back into it mid-life. I was 15 and was introduced to the hard reality of the world, but did not lose my will to fight against the tide of injustice and oppression. If anything, these misfortunes only heightened my passion and desire for change. I worked hard both in school and in my two jobs and was able to fulfill my parents’ wishes of attaining a college education.
From the age of 15 until present I have worked full time jobs, as well as part time jobs to provide for myself and to pay for the portion of tuition that my two federal loans and little grants and scholarships did not cover. After 5 years at DePaul I am in $47,000 of student loan debt. This number is frightening. What is more frightening is the fact that the work that I love to do, in the humanities, does not pay even pay a quarter of that amount a year. So the story that my parents, teachers and mentors told me was not true. Hard work in school does not equal security and it is certainly not the path out of poverty.
When I graduate in three months I can either head to graduate school, take out more loans and find myself buried deeper into a pile of student debt, or I can find a job that will pay enough for me to scrape by while I attempt to pay off the pile of debt that I have already accumulated, while it collects interest along the way. Either way, I will be in debt for the best years of my life. This amount of money will impede on my plans to have children and my dream to one day own land. I have been waiting my whole life for that “great job” and, in reality, the American dream. But what I have come to realise is that dream is not available to all of us, it is the dream for the privileged few.
Missy is a senior at Depaul University and a leader with Depaul Students for Justice.