Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Story on Federal Student Loans

This is adapted from my entry to the President Obama Tumblr regarding Federal Student Loans.

My parents are both first-generation college graduates.  My mother’s older brothers and sister went to college, but my father was the first college graduate in his family.

I grew up knowing that I and my siblings were expected to go to college.  And knowing that we would have to figure out our own way to get there.  My parents raised four of us on an Air Force Captain’s salary.  In order to send us to Catholic schools, we grew up without cable television, eating out was a rare occasion, we rarely traveled, and much of our furniture was purchased from thrift stores.

Dear brothers 3 and 4 (the 5th and 6th children) were born while I was in high school, at the same time that my father left the Air Force to become a science and math teacher.  We moved back to their home state just before my junior year of high school, where my father’s first teaching job paid $17,000 / year.  The babies went on WIC, while the four of us of school-age ate free lunches at the public school.

We moved again for my senior year of high school, to a larger town where my mother could also find work.  That year, my parents worked three jobs each just to try and stay afloat.

I went to college on a Pell Grant, Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans, work-study, and occasionally a small scholarship.  The “expected family contribution” came out of my own earnings. Initially through Temporary secretarial jobs over summers and Christmas holidays, later from my cooperative education internships.

My sister took on a ROTC scholarship in order to help pay for her college degree.  Dear Brother 1 lived at home and worked his way through a degree at the local extension.  Our sister’s hazard pay from serving & contracting in Iraq, helped Dear Brother 2 complete his degree.  And now I am trying to support Dear Brother 3 as he attends college.

It is because of Federal education Funding that I was able to earn a degree in Engineering from Purdue University.  It is because of Federal education Funding that I was able to graduate from college and go to work on the International Space Station.  It is because of Federal education Funding that I am able to support my family.

I am still paying off my student loans.  The Perkins ones, I paid off about two years ago, but the Stafford ones are taking me longer.  I was able to consolidate during the 2001 Recession, but I made some mistakes that decade.  I've never defaulted, and Thank Goodness I borrowed conservatively.  I've been paying extra the past year+ to try and get rid of them, but it takes time.

I think, because of my consolidation, my interest rates are locked in, and I should not be affected by the pending changes.  Still, I know that I felt VERY frustrated and unsupported by Congress when they cut back on Pell Grant and other federal funding while I was in college.  Grants would have reduced my debt and freed up my spending.