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In light of the news that the Biden administration is debating student loan forgiveness, I’d like to tell you a bit about my college debt experience.  

Sitting in the financial aid workshop during college orientation at Northeastern University at 18-years-old, I was the only one paying attention. It’s not that I was particularly studious, I just didn’t have anyone to talk to and no phone to fiddle with. I had ended up at Northeastern because they offered me a half scholarship, and they had a study abroad relationship with the American University of Paris (AUP), my dream school that I declined to attend after an admissions officer gave me her frank assessment: An undergraduate degree from anywhere was not worth the amount of debt I’d have to take out in order to graduate from AUP. She recommended checking out her school’s sister schools, which is how I ended up at Northeastern. 

Sitting in the financial aid workshop, I had a realization: Even with the generous scholarship provided, I would still be taking out an astronomical amount of debt. I estimated my pre-tax take-home salary per month, then how much my loan payment would be according to the repayment schedule in front of me: half of my pre-tax dollars if I earned a $35,000 starting salary.  

I was in a unique circumstance at 18-years-old: Unlike almost everyone else in that financial aid workshop, I had no fallback option upon graduation. My mother had died, I was estranged from my father. There was no "home" to move back to, and there was no financial safety net. I would need every dime of my salary to pay rent, utilities, and other expenses upon graduation. I stood up, walked out of the workshop, and found my orientation leader to find out how I could go about dropping out of college before I even took a single class. 


Kassandra Jones in graduation attire

Kassandra Jones, 28, of New York City, ended up with $165,000 in student loan debt, despite spending years trying to mitigate the cost of her education.  (Courtesy Kassandra Jones)

Instead, I applied at a local school, the City College of New York, and was accepted on the spot the month before classes started. I lived in a cockroach infested first-floor apartment and slept on an air mattress that didn’t once stay inflated the entire time I owned it, working a full-time job while attending school and often walked around with less than $20 to my name. I had my utilities turned off once and asked my friends to lift spaghetti out of their parents’ pantries to get me from one payday to another.  

I would go on to transfer to Rutgers University, a public school in New Jersey, and continue working full-time while attending classes, a grueling three years spent there before graduating with a fraction of the debt I would have had I attended Northeastern.  

To say I sacrificed to graduate college as debt-free as possible is the understatement of the year. And the hard work didn’t end there: I never missed a single payment on my loans until they were paid in full 10 years after I graduated, even during months I was barely scraping by.  

That hard work paid off: When applying for my first jobs in 2008 during a recession, when all of my classmates couldn’t beg for a job at Starbucks, I was able to use my history of work experience to earn me a job offer. My future boss asked me what set me apart from every other recent graduate applying for the same job; and when I told her about working 40 hours a week while also in school full-time, she was sold. 


There are millions of Americans like me: Students (and their parents) who made hard choices and worked hard to take responsibility for the debt we chose to take out in order to achieve a college degree and thereby increase earning potential. There are millions more Americans who don’t have a degree, and should not under any circumstances be forced to pay for the choices of those who took out debt in exchange for a degree which often confers more career opportunities.  

Earlier this month, CNN reporting shockingly gave the full-picture for the unintended ripple effects of the debt forgiveness plan President Biden is considering, actually admitting that the cost would be shifted to taxpayers, and that forgiveness would do nothing for future college students, leaving the college affordability question unanswered.  


While many in Biden’s base might selfishly applaud more free money from Uncle Sam, the political costs in the wider electorate aren’t on Democrats’ radar, but they should be. There are millions of Americans like me, for whom debt forgiveness is an infuriating slap in the face after years of hard work and sacrifice. Those used to be qualities we encouraged as an American culture, and if Biden gets his way, we’ll be sending a very different message to the next generation.