Rushing: Why I Needed Student Loans to Go to School
According to your top sources, I’m either an ‘elitist’ or one of 429,000 Iowans struggling with a collective debt of $13.3 billion in student loans that will see some of it forgiven. by an executive order of President Joe Biden.
Biden announced Wednesday that up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt would be forgiven for Pell grant recipients — you must “display exceptional financial need” to receive one — and up to $10,000 for those in between us who weren’t so tough.
The social media outrage over this was something, especially since many of the most vocal critics have benefited from forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans in increments greater than Biden forgives and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of federal farm subsidies.
But rather than rehash all of that, I’ll tell you why I needed student loans and why it was so difficult for me to pay off that debt.
I am the product of a single mother. My late mother raised me, for the most part, by herself. I say mostly because my grandparents and maternal aunts and uncles also played a big role in my upbringing. I also kind of have three fathers, which I’ve never written about before.
My first stepfather, who I grew up thinking was my biological father, spent most of my childhood in prison and battling various addictions.
My second stepfather, whom my mother met at work during one of my first stepfather’s stints in prison, already had three sons of his own. I was also not very receptive to this guy who I thought was trying to replace my “father”, although I rarely saw him outside of a visiting room. Also, don’t worry, my second stepdad and I are super cool now!
My last father figure is my biological father whom I met during my last year of high school. We are also super nice and it is thanks to him that I went from being an “only child” for 17 years to two little sisters whom I love and cherish.
Obviously, my story is complicated, and trying to explain how I related to someone through one of these three men requires a flowchart.
So what does this have to do with student loans? Well, I’m getting there but first I had to show you where I came from.
Growing up, my mother usually had a full-time job, a part-time job, and side businesses, including making and selling personalized gift baskets. Yet for years we barely kept our heads above water, especially during his rare spells of unemployment.
There were times when we had to fill the tub with water before they cut it off due to a missed bill. Sometimes in the winter we had to sleep in the same bed under many quilts because she couldn’t risk driving up the gas bill since we had no money to pay.
When she didn’t have a car running, we would walk to and from the grocery store a mile from our duplex to get what we needed – that’s probably why I’m still so dedicated to the “one trip or die mantra” of bringing groceries. We also walked to the payphone whenever our house phone was turned off.
Even with all of our financial struggles, not going to college was never an option for me and the value of an education was something my mother instilled in me. She was the only one of her five maternal and paternal siblings to graduate from high school. She also earned some college credits while raising me, working multiple jobs, and supporting an incarcerated spouse.
By the time I was ready to go to college, things were much better. She and my second stepdad bought a house together, he got a good job after their old place of work laid them both off, and my mom worked full-time and part-time several times in a big store.
Also, because I was/am a giant nerd, I was offered a scholarship that covered tuition for our local community college. I stayed home and my (biological) dad bought me my books during my first semester at Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC).
By the time of the second semester, I was writing for the school newspaper and working night shifts in an office supply warehouse. I still have the boxcutter scars and the steel-toed boots to prove it.
When I transferred to the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), I was free of college debt because I stayed home while at KCKCC and my scholarship covered tuition. I also paid for my books out of pocket after my first semester since I was working full time.
Then the shit got real.
UMKC wouldn’t accept all of my credits from KCKCC, so I was going to have to take a number of courses, which also meant paying for those courses. I had also moved out and gotten my own place, so paying school and rent out of pocket even with a full-time job wasn’t really feasible.
I took out a federal student loan of $2,000 in the fall of 2008. I repaid that loan in May 2022 and was able to do so for two reasons: I maintained my automatic payment during the federal break on student loan repayment that began under President Donald Trump. and continued under Biden, and those payments went straight to my loan rather than strictly interest.
I repaid a second of my four loans in June because of the same situation. In total, I borrowed $9,250 and still owe $7,000. I only started repaying my loans in 2016, when I was working my second full-time job as a journalist, because I simply had no money to spare.
I earned less money at my first job as a journalist than at the warehouse where I worked between the ages of 19 and 26. It was also after paying the bill for breaking the lease on my apartment in suburban Kansas City and paying for a move to Newton, Iowa.
In Newton, Dustin Turner, a friend and former colleague, had access to a relative’s Costco account. We did the occasional Costco ride from Newton to West Des Moines and I remember my jaw dropping when I found out that the Costco free samples earned more hours than us.
By the time I got my third job as a reporter in Sioux City, my cost of living was so much higher than in Sheldon, where my second and fourth reporter jobs were and where I started paying off my loans. after years of ignoring calls and emails. from Nelnet – that I had to find a second job.
Somewhat ironically, I became a free sampler—retail merchandiser was the official title—at Sioux City Sam’s Club, Costco’s main rival. I also did some freelance writing assignments.
I left the part-time job after about 6 months but this memory remains a good motivation. pic.twitter.com/X49JeazCqM
— Ty Rushing (@Rushthewriter) July 15, 2020
I remember one terrible day when I had a freelance assignment coming up and had to work both jobs. I did but it sucks.
I’m not writing this to seek sympathy – I’m fine these days and it’s the internet and we’re all freaks here – but to give a face and a voice to the student debt crisis, which is not is not unique to me or my particular situation. Even the Obamas only repaid their loans just before entering the White House.
There are millions of people like me who couldn’t afford to go to school without going into debt and, strange as it may seem, I tried to put myself in a situation of manageable debt.
I went to KCKCC instead of the University of Kansas (KU) because I couldn’t afford to go to my dream school. I transferred to UMKC because it made more sense financially and made it easier to travel between home, my warehouse job, and campus, which were in three different counties in two states. To put it in mascot terms, it was cheaper to be a Kangaroo than a Jayhawk.
Biden’s announcement was a game-changer for many people I know. My younger sister will be free of college debt at age 40, which is remarkable considering her undergraduate debt was “enough to buy a nice house,” according to my (biological) dad. A friend who racked up nearly $80,000 in debt over several attempts at college to find her as a nurse is going to be able to see a significant portion of that burden removed.
I can direct my payments to my marriage and maybe even have a house after nearly 15 years of apartment living. Obviously, these are things I was going to have to do eventually, but having more financial flexibility to do so is more than a relief.
So yeah, I’m pretty happy with the Biden executive’s decision, but I’m also just a Kansas City elitist with three dads who can’t afford college and whose experience professional as a journalist– working primarily in rural Iowa – only recently outgrew his career experience as a warehouse worker; a senior distribution specialist if you want to get technical.
by Ty Rushing
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on the impact of state and national decisions on the daily lives of Iowans. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.