By Myron Edwards
Deputy Field Director at For Our Future Wisconsin
Growing up, college was not something I had ever seriously envisioned for my future–but I can proudly say I am the first in my family to earn a Bachelor’s Degree.
I attended Wauwatosa West High School which was extremely segregated, from the buses and the lunch tables, to the classrooms and even classes themselves -the experiences of Black and White students were incredibly disparate. Like me, most of my Black classmates came from single-mother or low-income households where no one had even attended a college course and therefore did not have the privilege of prior knowledge on the process of entering college, especially the financial commitment. The majority of our White peers very much understood the process because of their immediate family members and the school’s proactiveness in preparing White students to enter college.
As an early junior being asked about my future, I knew I wanted to graduate high school but that was the most I knew about my intended future. I started working as a sales floor associate at T.J.Maxx, and planned to simply remain there long-term, perhaps becoming a manager following high school. Even though I worked as many hours as I could, I still tended to my grades and had majority A’s and B’s without real effort. One day an academic advisor called me to the office to discuss the potential of me going to college. They told me about tests I never heard of: the PSAT, the SAT, the ACT. When I heard of these tests, I relayed the information to my Black peers and talked about college with them. They were also unfamiliar with these tests and the process to college, and felt discouraged to even take these tests because of the cost of them.
The academic advisor continued to push me to attend college because of my effort in high school. In time I brought this conversation of attending college to my mother who was largely unfamiliar with the process as she had only taken a few college courses in order to fulfill the education needed to become a police officer. I was under the impression from my academic advisor and society that college was imperative and that it can easily be paid for through scholarships, but I was very deceived.
I applied to many schools and was accepted to most with small scholarships. In my pure juvenile ignorance, and in my teenage rebellion against my mother, I elected to attend DePaul University–a private school in Chicago. Math was always my weakest subject in school and at 17-years old I could not comprehend how loans worked, nor the amount of money I would owe and the time it would take to pay that back. I was once again led to believe that upon graduating college that I would instantly be able to earn a wage that I can live off of and pay back my loans comfortably. Five years and thousands of dollars later I now know I was taken advantage of financially when I was 17-years-old–binding myself to unaffordable monthly payments on scant wages and salaries. I am grateful to have had the privilege and opportunity to attend college, but if I could do it over again I would’ve proactively sought more help to understand the financial obligations of college my family and I largely did not understand.
I am very grateful that President Joe Biden has elected to forgive a substantial amount of student loans. It has not been easy for me to work a full-time job, pay various inescapable life expenses, and student loans. I cannot imagine what is like for others who have less fortunate circumstances and additional life expenses I do not. My student loans have long felt like a shackle limiting my own life in so many ways, one being the prospect of having children.
College should not be an anchor for our youth; it should be a springboard into a better future to help stimulate our economy and compete on the global stage. The only way we can ensure that college does not become burdensome is to make it more affordable and accessible, like it is in much of the rest of the world.
Myron Edwards lives in Milwaukee, WI and is the Deputy Field Director at For Our Future Wisconsin.