I Can't Be The Only One Drowning In Student Debt
For-profit colleges have gotten some unwanted government attention lately—for aggressive recruiting and high interest rates on loans, and for misleading students about what their degrees will help them accomplish.
The for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges shut down a year ago. Now another large operator, ITT Technical Institute, looks like it might be next: It is losing students quickly, its stock price has plunged to $2 a share, and the Obama administration is pushing to shut down the accreditors that oversee this school and many other for-profit colleges.
Some of this scrutiny can be traced to current and former students who have been sharing information and organizing online in groups like “ITT Tech Warriors.” WLRN spoke with one of these so-called warriors. Megan Hamm talks about her experiences studying IT and networking at a school near Tampa, and about trying to pay off her loans after she withdrew. Here are her comments:
WLRN: Why did you decide to go back to school?
HAMM: With the market crashing the way it did...retail pretty much slowed to a halt back in 2007, 2008. I worked at Kohl's as a freight supervisor. And we just got cut… The market was just absolutely saturated with people looking for jobs. I couldn't find even so much as somebody that would look at my resume let alone actually call me back for an interview. Mostly I decided to go back to school so that I could get out of retail.
And when did you realize that you had a problem?
I actually did not graduate. I only went a semester and a half... I left with 10 grand worth of debt. I've paid over $2,500 of that. I still have 13 grand worth of debt. For the last five years I've been working as a valet driver. There have been times that I have been able to pay off my student loans. However, it was just interest—interest-only payments; nothing was hitting the principal. So it makes it very difficult to get out from underneath them.
How did you get involved with ITT Debt Warriors?
I was starting to figure out, OK—I can't be the only person drowning in debt for no good reason. So I started researching and found out ITT Tech is putting out millions and millions of dollars right now in the event of school closure to pay students back. The college is facing severe scrutiny. And that is because of a collective movement of people.
I started getting more and more involved because I realized this was more of a systematic issue, more so than just than an ITT Tech Issue. It's not just my problem. At what point does the American populace say enough is enough?
I get that I need to go to college to be able to get an education to be able to get a better paying job than Taco Bell. But how do we afford that? How do we get people into the political systems— Congress, the presidency, that's going to start chipping away at the reins of power that [are] just sitting there ?
What single change in student loan policy or student loan law do you think would make the biggest difference for students like yourself trying to get affordable education?
Monitoring what colleges charge would be a huge help. You can go to a community college and pay just over $100 a credit hour. You could go to ITT tech and they're going to charge over $400 an hour. Every single college charges literally a different dollar per credit hour.
What would you tell students who are looking at different programs and student loan options to watch out for?
There’s a few things I wish I would have done differently. Make sure you do your research: If you're not understanding what you are signing your name to, don't sign your name. You need to do the homework on it.
You need to understand. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with all of this debt and a job that’s not going to be able to pay it off in a reasonable amount of time. Because of the way the interest compounds it grows faster than you can pay for it. You don’t see people buying a car for 11 grand and then taking 25 years to pay it off. If we all did that, we’d all be driving clunkers; let’s face it.
Megan Hamm is back in school now, going to St. Petersburg College, in Clearwater, and she's paying for it without more debt. This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.