Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Millions of students  in the United States face debt.

Attending a college is something most of us dream about as teenagers. We look forward to becoming doctors, police officers, artists, nurses, etc.

When the time comes to enroll in a college, the last thing on our minds is the price and how much it’ll all cost in the end. All we are excited for is this new journey and becoming young adults.

When I first started college in the fall of 2012 at Central Connecticut State University, financial aid covered my yearly tuition in its entirety. Today, however, five years later, I maxed out of the money I can borrow from financial aid, and now all my stress comes from figuring out how to pay for college.

There are many ways to pay for college, but why should we be punished with such high debts when other countries offer residents free higher education? This is the main reason why the U.S. has lower graduation rates in comparison to other countries.

It is ironic that the U.S. is known as the “land of the free” when there is nothing free about this country. Luckily, New York has recently become the first state to offer debt-free four-year college. Although it is only one state, it is still progress. It will take time and persistence, but with help, eventually there will be at least one debt-free college in each state until all two- and four-year colleges across the country become free.

Connecticut’s annual graduation rate ranks fifth nationwide, which is extraordinary. However, it also has the highest student-debt-per-borrower average in the U.S. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, most students who enroll in for-profit colleges in Connecticut don’t graduate, and those who do are deeper in debt. On average, more than half of the students; 62 percent to be exact, who graduate from a Connecticut college or university, have an average debt of $29,000 (2015).

This money continues to accumulate after we graduate due to the high interest rates. We are expected to find a job with the career that we chose and have to immediately begin to pay this money back. As I mentioned above, why do we have to be punished with these high debts just because we chose to become someone in life and make something out of ourselves?

Having free colleges would most certainly benefit students, especially those who come from hard-working middle- and lower-class families, like me. A lot is expected from students who are the first generation to attend college. We dream of being able to get our parents a nice home and repaying them for everything they have done for us.

Personally, coming from a poor family and being the first generation to attend college, my family expects me to graduate and become successful. The truth is, I don’t know how long it will take me for me to be able to repay my parents. It is a heavy weight on my shoulders knowing that I am over $35,000 in debt.

New York offers universal public college tuition coverage for working, middle-class residents. There are no requirements other than residency and income, and no caps on the number of residents who can receive full tuition. Help like this is what us students need to become successful.

Now that I am older, I realize that being successful does not mean graduating college or obtaining a degree. Being successful is finding peace, joy, and most important, living a stress-free life with a job you love. Having debt-free college or at least a system that forgives debts for the students who graduate will be beneficial for us all, including our families. It will also benefit the country. It will attract more people to obtain a degree as well as increase the graduation rate. How long will it take the U.S. to help us be the future leaders we want to become?

Stacey Montalvo lives in New Britain.

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