College for All – Vote Bernie Sanders

Katy Roemer, Berkeley resident and RN working at Kaiser Oakland Medical Center

I don’t know whether to celebrate or cry.

Within a few months, I will have finally paid off the very last of my $20,000 worth of student loans for the private nursing school I graduated from in 1995. Yes, you read that right. I’ve been paying off these loans for 20 years and am now 52 years old.

But instead of finally focusing on building up my family’s savings and working toward my and my husband’s retirement, we are now facing taking on many thousands of dollars in student loans over the next eight years to put our two sons through college.

I make a good living as a unionized registered nurse in the San Francisco Bay Area. My husband also works. We don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from or keeping a roof over our heads, but we don’t live extravagant lifestyles. Most of our vacations consist of going to Michigan to visit my mother.

Yet when our eldest son was accepted into University of California Santa Cruz last year, the financial aid office told us that we were responsible for $28,000 out of pocket of his $33,000 annual tuition and living expenses. The only aid was a $5,000 loan to make up the difference.

Do you have $28,000 lying around? Because we don’t. So we did what so many families in our area are doing. We took out a second mortgage on our home. At a time when all the personal finance experts say we should be minimizing debt, we are burying ourselves in more of it than ever before. I don’t know how we will pay this debt. Nursing is extremely hard on your body; I now constantly worry that I am one work injury or layoff away from financial ruin. And goodbye, retirement!

Sadly, this second mortgage is not even enough to cover four years of college. We will have to figure out a way to pay some of it off soon in order to keep writing those $10,000 tuition checks. And our youngest son will be due to enter college just as soon as our eldest graduates.

Of course, we understand we are one of the fortunate parents who even own a house to further mortgage and who can financially support our sons’ college studies. Many talented, deserving young people are forgoing college altogether. The rest – millions of students from working-class families – are taking on enormous amounts of school debt that they may very well be saddled with for the rest of their lives. Currently, according to government statistics, more than 40 million Americans owe more than $1.3

trillion in student debt, at an average balance (as of 2012) of $24,803. Some students owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. Defaults are on the rise, and many expect student loan debt to be the next bubble that bursts and implodes our economy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you’ve ever spoken to an exchange student from many countries in Europe, especially the Scandinavian ones, you’ll learn that college or university there is free or practically free. Students there can pursue studies they’re actually interested in since they don’t worry about how to pay for school, and they can build their adult lives much more easily after school because they’re not “servicing” their loans. These governments do not have crippled economies, but instead understand that free post-secondary education is an investment in their people and in their countries. There are so many incredibly talented people who could be contributing to our society and deserve access to a college education.

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has a plan to do the same for the United States. Recognizing that a college degree is as necessary for landing a living-wage job today as a high school degree was 50 years ago, Sanders has proposed that we require Wall Street to pay its fair share of taxes so that all students can attend public colleges and universities for free. It’s called the College for All Act, and he’s holding a national student town hall Wednesday night to discuss it and to hear how such a program would dramatically improve the futures of millions of American students and their families.

I am in full support of the College for All Act. It may not happen in time for our eldest son, but I have my hopes up for our youngest.

Imagine going to college and studying what you actually want, versus what you think will make the most money once you graduate. Imagine getting to actually focus on your schoolwork, network with classmates, and attend your professors’ office hours instead of rushing from part-time job to part-time job. Imagine graduating free and clear from any debt and without the pressure to take the first job that comes along because your loan payments are going to kick in.

Once that happens for my family, for yours, and for all Americans, I can finally celebrate.

Cal student organizers are holding a viewing party of Sanders’ national student town hall at 101 Morgan Hall at 6 p.m. Wednesday night. Please visit the Facebook event page to RSVP and join us!