Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Silently Suffering

A couple of weeks ago I attended the NACA (National Association For Campus Activities) Conference in Nashville Tennessee.  NACA is where colleges and universities from all around the country come to one place to hire performances for their campus for the upcoming semester while at the same time attending beneficial educational workshops. The campus representatives who attend are mostly students accompanied by an advisor.  This was my first National NACA so 99% of the students and student affair professionals were meeting me for the first time.  Majority of the performances that are for hire at NACA are music acts, magic acts, comedy, lecturers, etc so what I have to offer is completely different and at first not easy to understand. That is why I wear a t-shirt that says “DEBT SUCKS” on it because that is what I am about, I am about showing students that they don’t have to die in debt like so many people before them. They actually can be different from their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc and get out of debt in a few years after graduation.   I did not start off my speaking career talking to college students but I actually started speaking to individuals who were in the average age range of 40-65yrs and the common sentence spoken at the end of my presentation no matter where I was at was “where were you when I was younger?”  It was said to me so much that I decided I need to go to where the people are younger and that is when I started speaking at colleges.  I went to NACA because it is the best way to get in front of a lot of universities and colleges in one place and when you are able to interact with close to 2500 people in a few days you are able to see a disturbing trend.

Students on a daily basis would walk past me, look at my shirt, and say DEBT does SUCK! Then I would speak to them one on one and quickly come to understand that their financial issues ran extremely deep and that they don’t even know where to start to get a handle of it.  A senior came up to me who was in $30,000 of debt which consisted of student loans, credit cards, and a car loan.  He said “we need you to come to our school, or better yet I just need your personal email because I need help.”  He went on to talk about he didn't know how he would pay off the debt after graduation and to make the situation more serious he had a baby on the way in June.  I met a young woman who wanted after graduation to work directly with young kids at risk and help them towards a more promising future, but she said that she would have to take a job that she didn't want to just to pay off the debt she had.  In her words “I will have to put off my dream for a few years until I can get a handle on my debt.” Another young lady stopped me in mid sentence and said “please don’t remind me of my debt.  I went to a different university before attending this one and racked up so much already.”  As she was speaking tears started to form in her eyes and I quickly told her it would be okay, but she shook her head and said “I don’t think so.”  I tried to help her in the two minutes we had to talk, but I could tell that she needed more and at this type of event that was not possible.

The examples go on and on, but the point of the stories above is that there are A LOT of students that are silently suffering because of debt and they need help, they need direction.  When I was in college which was not long ago no one cared about how much they owed because we all just said we will get to it after graduation, but these students don’t have the same care free option.  With tuition at some universities increasing as much as 40% since 2008 students are feeling the burden of debt before they graduate and to add insult to injury because of the 2008 recession the government has less money to give to universities for grants, etc.  When less money is coming in from the government then who makes up the difference in the money owed? That’s right, the student and their parents.  The good news is some universities are seeing the importance of financial literacy for their students and like the idea of someone who has been in massive debt, got out of it, and now is able to show others how to do the same. After NACA I recognized that I have to do a better job at explaining to Deans, Directors, Advisors, etc the importance of this information because there are students silently suffering and if they don’t go in the right direction they WILL BE graduates silently suffering who will be deep in debt living paycheck to paycheck and not the prosperous alumni that can give back to their alma mater.  My mission is to help as many college students as I can before they graduate so that they are able to live a life without debt.  A life without debt for these students will lead to a world that is changed for the better.