During Congressional Black Caucus week, BET produced a town hall special titled “Young Gifted And Broke” hosted by Angela Rye. Her Agenda was invited, and the special aired recently on the network.
We’ve been following the debates as Presidential candidates have described their plans to tame the student loan debt crisis; one that reached $1.5 trillion in 2018 and is primarily held by students from middle and lower-income households. In addition to Angela Rye, BET News brought on policymakers, students, and experts, like Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Jahana Hayes, Rep. Bobby Scott, Jesse Williams, Jessica Brown, Christopher Gray to discuss the growing epidemic and the effects on Black students.
For communities of color, the debt crisis is a burden the majority of our students carry. Many of which are first-generation college students who committed to their loans with little to no knowledge of the long term repayment process, or the lifetime effect it would have on their livelihood. They were simply sold on the premise of a better life and the opportunity to land jobs that would pay for it down the line.
“Young, Gifted, and Broke speaks directly to college affordability,” Rye said of the special. “I think Young Gifted, and Broke speaks to the heart of the American dream. You’re supposed to aspire to be great, but aren’t taught how to get there or how to make a means to an end.”
Insufficient resources and inadequate financial leadership were common factors amongst audience members who held up signage indicating the extent of their student loan debt—$40K, $50K, $100K. Rising high school seniors are expected to commit to high-interest loans in order to follow a path deemed necessary since the start of grade school, but given minimal guidance on how to navigate what that means long-term. Testimonies were given by former students—including a single mom who works two full-time jobs to maintain her livelihood with an $1800 per month student loan payment—detailing the severity of that cycle and the lasting effect of student loan debt.
While lawmakers are working diligently to tackle the growing crisis, Jessica Brown, founder of student financial planning website, CollegeGurl.com, offered some tips for managing your student loan debt:
- Research scholarships. $100M in scholarship money goes unclaimed yearly. If you need a user-friendly tool to sort through what’s out there, download the Scholly app.
- Follow-up with the financial aid office as often as necessary. Maintain a relationship with your in-office contact to use as a starting point to find other resources.
- Borrow what you need, not what you want.
Tackling student loan debt may seem like an empty promise, but Rye wants viewers to remember that anything is feasible. “We have to shift our minds about what’s realistic,” she said while referencing other life-changing policies—the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act—that all seemed too good to be true in the planning stages. As voters, we must listen closely to the candidates positioning and ask questions to assure that we’re electing officials who are going to serve us.
“Education is a public good. It doesn’t only benefit me, it benefits us all,” Rep. Ilhan Omar said when speaking about her plans to address the crisis. In countries around the world, undergraduate education is seen as an investment in their society. Only in America, can the pursuit of a better life through higher education be a trap into thousand-dollar debt.
Host Angela Rye, who finished school with over $160K in student loans, had a few tips for paying down your loans:
- If and when you’re able, pay more than the minimum amount due.
- Monitor your due dates. Schedule them into your calendar or put them on autopay.
- Monitor how much you’ve paid down.
For Black students who want to create better lives for themselves and their families, going to college is their only opportunity to step outside of their communities, get an education, and have experiences that aren’t available in the confinement of their neighborhoods. For a lot of them, student loan repayment seems like a small price to pay for the chance to pursue a career path that doesn’t seem attainable without a degree. Our stories are all the same. Though we have the book smarts to get us there, systemic barriers prevent our growth and will to succeed. Systemic barriers keep some of our community’s most talented players at home. The time for us is now.