By Tanya Rose
My name is Tanya Rose, and I have student debt.
This is the part where people are supposed to tell me it’s OK, that I shouldn’t feel ashamed – after all, a pricey college education and the debt that comes along with it, well, that’s the American Way.
But the truth is, I am worried and a bit ashamed. Part of that might have to do with my parents (I remember my mom quietly saying, “Now honey, don’t tell your grandma that you’re taking out loans – she wouldn’t approve.”) But most of it is my disposition – I am a walking combination of worry, Catholic guilt and OCD perfectionism.
While I don’t owe tens of thousands of dollars the way some do, what I owe is enough to keep me up at night plotting, calculating, yearning for the day when I don’t have to send that check every month.
I wasn’t always this skittish. I was like a lot of kids – carefree in my assumption that I’d be raking it in by 30, so who cares? “Another $5,000 while I study for the bar exam? Yes please!”
I still remember the exact day – the exact moment, actually – when I set all this in motion. I was 17, about to graduate high school and I was sitting on the hood of my parents’ Oldsmobile thinking about my future. I had already decided to go to the University of Kansas to study journalism.
But that day, I had read an article in Newsweek (my dream publication, where I would one day be a star reporter) and it changed everything. It was about the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill sexual harassment scandal, and at the bottom, there was a bio box about the writer. It turns out, so and so was a lawyer. Who wrote stories. Good stories. A lawyer. (Funny that this guy changed my life, and I can’t remember his name).
Sitting on the hood of my parents’ car, I decided that I would go to law school – that would set me apart from my writing peers, right? Then my ample Newsweek salary would take care of any and all law school loans, and I would be set for life.
Only that’s not what happened. I graduated from undergrad, with honors, in 1996, and then law school in 1999. Then I got my first job working for the Orange County Register, making $24,000 a year. “This is just how it is at first,” I remember thinking. “It won’t be forever.”
Then I went on to the Tracy Press making a little more. Then the Contra Costa Times, here in the Bay Area, making around $50,000.
It has been 13 years since I graduated from law school, and I never got to Newsweek – probably because my priorities shifted and it turned out I absolutely loved being a newspaper reporter. But after 12 years in the industry, I hadn’t progressed financially the way I thought I would.
Instead of skyrocketing upward, I was an ink-stained snail, happy but poor, with the knowledge that at some point, the gig would be up and I’d have to move on.
I am now doing public relations for a major Bay Area company, and I make a lot more than my journalism days, thank the Lord. I’m now able to pay off large chunks of my loans, but it’s not fun, and it’s not what I expected that day when I was a teenager, when the world stood before me, rife with opportunity.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, college tuition has gone up 7.45 percent per year since 1978. That means college costs four times more than it did 20 years ago, and 20 years from now, tuition could be as high as $250,000. Meanwhile, scholarships and grants are being slashed left and right. Salaries, sad to say, are not progressing at the same rate.
These days, if you want to go to Stanford Law, at $45,000 a year, and then work for your dream non-profit, God help you.
It’s easy to say that students should be better informed about what they’re in for, but I’m thinking that if someone came up to me at 17 and said, “Be careful. It’s not easy to pay all that back,” I am guessing I would have ignored it, pompous as I was, and do things exactly the same way.
I am stressed, yes. But I will say that I am glad I went to law school. It was one of the richest, most satisfying times of my life, where my sole goal was to feed my brain. I guess each person just has to decide if it’s worth it.
On my deathbed, when I’m completely square with our government and all that worry is in the past, I’m sure I’ll be glad that I walked this earth as an educated person. So I say thank you to that Newsweek lawyer, whoever he was.