I have dreams, but with student debt they’re just fantasies

by Akii Butler

From my parents to my teachers, everyone told me how important it was to attend college when I grew up. However, no one prepared me for the harsh realities after college, especially the burden of student loans and how hard it would be to find employment. I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio – a city that has gone through many challenges, one of the biggest being the lack of jobs. I was inspired to want more for myself and my family. I believed continuing my education was the solution. 

Since graduating from college, student loans have been a dark cloud over my head. The constant phone calls and emails reminding me how much I owe is too much to bear. At one point, I had a loan turned over to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, threatening to garnish my wages. Even with a college degree, it is hard to get a decent-paying job that would allow me to pay my loans back. And with interest constantly building, I fear it may get to a point where I won’t ever be able to pay off the debt.

When President Biden made the campaign promise that he would cancel at least $10,000 of each American’s student debt, I felt like I had the chance to breathe and start over – no longer would the weight of my student debt be on my shoulders. Yet, Biden’s inaction on this campaign promise scares me because the possibility of student debt cancellation becoming a reality seems out of reach. It is too easy to point fingers and say I need to take responsibility because I have committed to pay back these loans. It isn’t that simple. We must not ignore the predatory nature of loan servicers. We can’t overlook how most borrowers can only cover the interest; many people haven’t made a dent in their debt. Or the fact that there is a lack of debt navigation programs and funding for those programs to help graduates understand the process. This system sets borrowers up to fail. 

When I reflect on my student loans, it feels like I am in a never-ending cycle. I can defer my loans and get a temporary break from paying them. Still, student loans are just another burden that continuously weighs me down in addition to the cost of rent, utilities, phone, car insurance, car note, and buying groceries. Student loan debt relief was the promise. To not yet deliver on that promise is an outrage. 

I have dreams. I want to accomplish so many things in this world before I leave. Whether I choose to put my journalism degree to use and start a magazine or further my education and get my law degree, with the weight of student debt on my shoulders, my dreams look more like fantasies that will never become a reality. But with the stroke of a pen, President Biden can turn this current nightmare of student loan debt into a dream of opportunity where I can build the life I want for me, my family, and my community.

Akii Butler was born in Virginia Beach, VA and raised in Youngstown, OH. He is Ohio Student Association’s student organizer for the Columbus area and Kent State University. Before joining OSA, Akii spent his time organizing as a student at Kent State University, and after with a local organization. During his time with OSA, Akii hopes to make an impact and bring emerging and unique college students together to help make the change they want to see.

Read more student debt stories from the Alliance Network on the Dreams Not Debt page.