Student borrowers have the debt, but not the degree

“I had very good teachers who were mostly very understanding, but that was too much,” she said. “It was a tumultuous time.”

Ms Summers-Polite withdrew from her classes in the spring of 2012 with a medical note that barred her from receiving failing grades, but the debt had already started to pile up.

She said she deferred her payments for as long as she could, which meant that unpaid interest was added to her balance. Then she borrowed more in the summer of 2013, when she returned to take a few more lessons. After that, she took a two-year break from work, which provided her with much-needed health insurance after she was no longer eligible for her parents’ scheme.

Ms Summers-Polite, who lives in Miami, started studying again in 2016, but once an attractive job opportunity presented itself – director of communications for the activist group – she took it and n didn’t come back. She said she was making a lot of money now, but her loans were already in default, and getting out of it isn’t as simple as going back to sending monthly payments.

Ms Summers-Polite married in November and her husband, a spa coordinator at a major gym, is in debt of $27,000 himself. He has just returned to school after a 10-year break and is taking out other loans to pay.

She would also like to complete her education, but is unable to pay for tuition out of pocket, especially with the pandemic payments pause set to end later this year and her huge debt looming.

“Over the last few years, it’s been this glaring thing in my periphery,” she said, “getting bigger and bigger.”

Alain Delaqueriere contributed to the research.

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