By Patrice Snow
I don’t very often talk about my personal life or relay my experiences. I’m not big on social media (nay Twitter and even there I don’t share my comings and goings). Simply put, I was raised that certain things shouldn’t be shared publicly.
But, for this one time, I’m breaking my own rules. The impetus? Black Entertainment Television’s (BET) recent special “Young, Gifted, and Broke.”
The program on student debt and how it disproportionately affects Blacks was hosted by political commentator Angela Rye and featured Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Howard University President Dr. Wayne Frederick, and Washington Post reporter Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, along with a host of others.
When I originally watched, it struck such a nerve for me. Why? I was raised as a child of a single mother living off of a registered nurse’s salary who stressed that college was the only option for me. “You are black and female so you already have two strikes against you,” my mother would repeat over and over again. I knew that in order to survive (not to mention thrive), I would have to pursue a college education.
But financing a private education, even with the help of grants and scholarships, would prove to be the most stressful prospect in my life. How would I make up the balance that I owed?
Student loans, of course. They were presented as an easy fix to my problem. No need to worry about whether they were private or government-funded, if the interest rate compounded the moment I signed on the dotted line or if it waited until I graduated. Oh, and that pesky little prospect of looking for and securing full-time employment? Who could be bothered with that when I knew I would NEVER have to worry about being jobless? All I knew was that in order to pursue the “American Dream” – higher wages, job security, a certain “lifestyle” – student loans would have to be an integral part of the equation.
When all was said and done, walking across that stage at the Township Auditorium in Columbia, South Carolina to collect my precious college degree, I owed a whopping $20,000.
I was barely 23 years old.
My story, and so many others like mine, was the point of “Young, Gifted, and Broke.” Rye did a fantastic job of laying out the case and options for student borrowers to assuage the burden of massive student debt and how it affects life choices. But the bigger picture, one which Rye precisely hit on, was how the entire SYSTEM is literally built against us. Before we even step on campus, very few folks, including but certainly not limited to Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, are working on our behalf.
DeVos has strategically protected student loan servicers through non-enforcement of federal guidelines while undermining the authority of state attorneys general to investigate and sue servicers through state consumer protection laws. She has eroded protections that would make it easier to pay-off or make a significant dent in student loan balances that me and my peers carry. Why? Because of millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying money by the servicer industry.
DeVos obstructed Obama-era borrower defense rules through an “unlawful” delay and proposed weaker protections that would deny $13 billion to students who were victimized by sham, for-profit colleges. She’s also WORKED WITH servicers to combat state-level consumer protections for student borrowers, even appearing to strategize together in one lawsuit. And even the TRUMP-APPOINTED Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said DeVos is “getting in the way of efforts to police the student loan industry.”
The $1.6 trillion student loan crisis is hitting Gen-Xers and Millennials like a freight train but it’s been especially hard for African-Americans. And Betsy DeVos has done NOTHING but make the problem worse. Maybe because she comes from a wealthy family, or maybe because she doesn’t understand the struggles of working-class and poor students. Or maybe because she just doesn’t give a damn. But since she has come to the Department of Education, DeVos has not once sided with students over servicers.
DeVos is the walking-talking impediment to ending the black student debt crisis.