Degree versus Debt

Life is short and our decisions echo for years, decades, and even lifetimes to come.   One of the most important of those decisions, right up there with marriage and kids, is whether to pursue a college degree. This is due to the middle class belief that was instilled from birth by a hardworking, well meaning, majorly blue collar Baby Boomer population that worked, saved, and planned their whole life for the future.

New studies now show that, while well-meaning, those parents of yesteryear may actually have been wrong. Technical schools, certifications, or just plain rolling up your sleeves and committing to a craft to gain knowledge or even committing to an apprenticeship (a working/paying one that goes on for a few years) just might be more value than the average four years in college that we commit to. The better option is investments in stock, bonds, homeownership rather than the slow crawl that some of us make towards graduation as we pay out of pocket, putting off all other life goals. Or even worst, those of us who sign their young adult lives away to Navient, formerly known as Sallie Mae, in exchange for a Baccalaureate, Master’s, or when that doesn’t work, a Doctorate in a specialty field. Also important to note is that the majority of us that follow the path of fealty to financial aid are from parents that did not pursue a degree themselves, had to take remedial classes to qualify for college level courses, and not surprising, minorities.

There is approximately $1.4 trillion in student loan debt in this current year, more than $44 billion dollars over the nation’s total credit card debt. Currently there are 44.2 million Americans with student loan debt, 11% of students are delinquent on those loans more than 90 days and over half of the debt is 10 years older or more with monthly payments ranging from $200-$300 a month for education. This is long after advancing in your career, assuming you were able to get a job with the degree obtained.


Now to be fair I also researched the unemployment rate per the degree obtained. Those with only a high school education have an unemployment rate of 5.4% Those with at least a Bachelor’s degree are about half that rate with unemployment at 2.7% That should be some consolation right? Not if you are a part of that 8.7 million people in this country that invested in a college degree that later proves worthless in securing employment. Not if you are one of those having your credit and your life ruined by delinquent loans that take 10% of your total income in garnishment or sheer harassment every month. Mind you the median income for a high school graduate is about $756 where as their degreed counterpart makes $1156, BUT now subtract those student loans that the high school graduate may not need to worry about.

Only 34% of Americans have obtained at least an Associate’s degree and/or Bachelor’s. Over half of the U.S. population (58%) has attempted the feat of higher education. That means that there are people that make less than $800/week (I know a few) that owe student loan payments and we are questioning why we have “middle class poverty”.

My own experience was that in order to pursue my passion of nursing an ASN was the bare minimum requirement. In 2008, when I graduated I owed $5500 to Sallie Mae. My hospital snapped me up as a Graduate Nurse before I had even taken my NCLEX (Nursing Boards). They would have helped me obtain my BSN but I would have owed them 2 years of servitude and that was too high of a price for the overworked underpaid 32 year old me. I had been wait listed 4 years before I was “allowed” to become chemotherapy certified and had no support or incentive for becoming ONC (Oncology) certified. The escalator to bigger and better seemed to be moving too slow. I paid in student loans an additional $27,000 to graduate with my BSN in 2013. I had, by that time, began working in a chronic outpatient dialysis center. Did I get an increase in salary to compensate for the massive debt? No. Not a single cent. In fact, I was reporting to a registered nurse that had graduated from a diploma program in Boston years before. I have yet to obtain my specialty certification in this field either and yet through smart career moves, knowing friends in higher places, and learning to not be afraid to walk away from the table I have increased my annual salary by $20,000. The first three years though it moved very little through education and hard work. It didn’t take hard work, it didn’t take advanced degrees or specialty certification. It took realizing my worth as a nurse with both a background in Medical-Surgical, Geriatrics, Chemotherapy, basic Oncology, and both chronic and acute hemodialysis. It takes endless days, abbreviated nights and weekends, and watching my daughter’s toddler years go by in a blink of an eye. It takes filling in the holes in any capacity needed and being told by subordinates how easy my job is or how little I do compared to them. Is the degree worth the debt we find ourselves in?

Honestly, to be the first in my family to graduate was an amazing feeling that was definitely worth the $5500 spent on my ASN degree but I wish I had waited.  I wish I had paid for my BSN over time, at THIS time in my career, at my local community college. Most of my knowledge in nursing comes from my ASN and hands on, time in position, experience. I learned nothing in the pursuit of my BSN, not a single new bit. Now  it is predicted in the next 20 years the nurse will be replaced by a robots because we are no longer able to meet the demands of a booming healthcare system is depressing.  It leaves me thirsty for alternate forms of income so as not to be so readily discarded like the Baby Boomers before me that found their bedside skills made obsolete to the newer more computer savvy nurses that googled their way through their clinical rounds.

As for those whipper snappers that are coming after me? I would never discourage the pursuit of higher education. I only encourage to take your time. There is not a good age for this stuff. Acquire as little debt as possible, do internships, tuition reimbursements with employers, utilize your local and community colleges unless you are offered scholarships or are coming from rich parents. Decide if you feel so passionate about your career choice that you are willing to sacrifice other accomplishments or forsake them in the name of achieving your parent’s expectations of higher learning. For your field, research alternative apprenticeships and entry level pay in comparison. Think for yourself and be smart about your first true purchase as an adult.  The empty privilege of being part of a fraternity/sorority for life. The relationships and networking that may or may not work out for those of us who are socially challenged. The inheritance of generational debt coupled with lack of growth and wealth. Your degree.


~LaTisha Carbonell, RN, BSN

2 thoughts on “Degree versus Debt

  1. *sigh* All of this! Had I to do over, I would have started in community college (less cost) and transferred over to a 4yr institution. I’m currently enrolled in technical school for a career shift and every other day I ask myself is the debt going to be WORTH it.
    My mom is a semester away from completing an Ed.S which is just below a Ph.D and did so because it would get her a raise, well guess what, loan payments will eat that raise up. smh
    What I truly found disturbing is that federal student loans cannot be excused through bankruptcy. So now 3 things are certain in life: Taxes, student loan payments and death


  2. Awesome read. Only if I had 20/20 vision when I started by college journey. I often times feel like my advance degree is hindrance to me. Now I am glad that I have it but the cost…


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