By Myron Edwards
Deputy Field Director at For Our Future Wisconsin
Growing up, college wasn’t something I seriously considered for my future, but I can proudly say that I was the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
I attended Wauwatosa West High School, which was wildly segregated, from the buses and lunch tables, to the classrooms and even the classes themselves – the experiences of black and white students were incredibly disparate. Like me, most of my black classmates came from single-parent or low-income families where no one had even taken college courses and therefore weren’t privileged to have prior knowledge of the college entrance process. the university, especially the financial commitment. The majority of our white peers understood the process very well because of their immediate family members and the school’s proactiveness in preparing white students for college.
As a first junior when asked about my future, I knew I wanted to graduate from high school, but that was all I knew about my future. I started working as a sales floor associate at TJMaxx and was just planning on staying there long term, maybe becoming a manager after high school. Even though I worked as many hours as possible, I still tended towards my grades and got the majority of A’s and B’s with no real effort. One day, an academic advisor called me into the office to discuss my potential to go to college. They told me about tests I had never heard of: the PSAT, the SAT, the ACT. When I heard about these tests, I passed the information on to my black peers and talked about college with them. They were also unfamiliar with these tests and the process leading to college, and even felt discouraged from taking these tests due to their cost.
The school counselor kept pushing me to attend college because of my efforts in high school. In time I took this conversation about going to college to my mother who was largely unfamiliar with the process as she had only taken a few college courses in order to get the training needed to become policeman. I was under the impression from my academic advisor and society that college was imperative and could easily be funded through scholarships, but I was very deceived.
I applied to many schools and was accepted into most with small scholarships. In my pure youthful ignorance and my teenage rebellion against my mother, I chose to attend DePaul University, a private school in Chicago. Math was always my weakest subject in school and at 17 I couldn’t figure out how loans worked, how much money I owed and how long it would take to pay it back. Once again I was led to believe that after graduating from college I would instantly be able to earn a salary that I could live on and comfortably repay my loans. Five years and thousands of dollars later, I now know that I was financially abused when I was 17 – tying me to unaffordable monthly payments on meager wages and salaries. I am grateful to have had the privilege and opportunity to go to college, but if I could do it again, I would have proactively sought more help in understanding the financial obligations of college than my family and I largely did not understand.
I am very grateful that President Joe Biden has chosen to forgive a substantial amount of student loans. It hasn’t been easy for me to hold down a full-time job, pay various unavoidable living expenses and student loans. I can’t imagine what happens to others who have less fortunate circumstances and additional living expenses that I don’t have. My student loans have long seemed like a hindrance limiting my own life in many ways, one being the prospect of having children.
College should not be an anchor point for our young people; it should be a stepping stone to a brighter future to boost our economy and compete on the global stage. The only way to ensure college doesn’t become a burden is to make it more affordable and accessible, as it is in much of the rest of the world.
Myron Edwards lives in Milwaukee, WI and is the Assistant Field Manager for For Our Future Wisconsin.