Wednesday, September 16, 2015

And The Point of It All Is...Higher Education Matters

Not too long ago I was engaged in a heated debate on Facebook with a few friends about the pros and cons of incurring student loan debt in the pursuit of getting to putting a few letters behind one's name. In my case, I have amassed over 100k in student loan debt to be called Dr. LaToya Asantelle Tavernier, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Having that much debt is not a great thing. I have lost sleep some nights thinking about how much money that I owe Sallie Mae and her bastard minions. And I have often talked about my thoughts on the graduate school experience and on whether or not I would do it again if I could relive the past 10 years of my life. But since I can't turn back time, I have spent many hours thinking about what was the point of all the debt and stress that I brought on myself in the pursuit of the professional titles.

One of the participants of my Facebook debate argued that people today put immediate gratification--the desire to pursue advanced degrees in spite of their inability to pay for it without taking out massive loans--over their financial health--the future ability to buy a home or save for retirement. They suggested that folks should attend schools that they can afford (e.g., attending community college or state schools instead private universities), and/or they should work first and save money (or get their employers to pay part or all of their tuition) before they pursue advanced degrees. This opinion didn't go over very well with me or my Facebook friends that possessed advanced degrees and student loan debt.




I completely understood the point of living within your means. I know that my massive graduate school debt is going to delay, or possibly prohibit, my ability to buy a home or to build a sizeable nest egg for my later years. I live at home with my mama in her house. I have been living there for the past 4 years because I am not in a place where I can afford to live in my own place, pay bills (including my monthly loan repayments), put food in my belly, and have an active social life. But you know what, I can't say that going to graduate school straight out of undergrad and taking on thousands of dollars of loans a year for the past 10 years was a poor or unwise decision. Yes, I could have made better efforts to apply for scholarships and to find ways to cut my loan amounts. But I can't say that I have ruined my chances at good financial future. Maybe it will take me longer than my friends who didn't take out over 100k in federal loans in the pursuit of intellectual growth and a professional title. But I will get there. I may not have my own home or my own apartment at age 32. But I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have accomplished something that a small percent of people in this world, especially among those who look like me and come from where I came from.

I have earned my PhD, a goal that I created for myself in my early teens. That accomplishment makes me happy. It gives me great pride. It means more to me than owning a home in my 30s or having $10,000 in my savings account.

Because I truly believe that the point of it all---in my case, the stress, student loans, long nights reading, the multiple research assistant and adjunct jobs for low pay, low bank statements, and the living at home as an adult (in other words, LIFE)---is for me to be able to do work that I love and that I am proud of. That is something I tell my friends, family, and my students. The point of this life is to be happy (and to not let debt, naysayers, self-doubt, and other barriers stand in your way).