Friday, October 30, 2009

Reduced Employability + Heavy Student Loans = A Dire Predicament (Personal Entry)

Wow. I've been in college off-and-on for 6 years now. As you would imagine at this point, my student loans are crushing me! The state university routine is getting old at my 7th academic year.

Fall 2003

I don't often tell my age, as I am ashamed to, but I started going to K-State in the Fall of 2003. That year, tuition was $117 per credit-hour for resident undergrads. As the saying has been repeated many times and applied to many situations, "the first is the hardest." That semester was most certainly no exception.

I had as much of a grasp at this brand-new college routine as a novice rodeo rider has on a bronco, and I am NOT referring to OJ's SUV! There were also too many distractions that I couldn't resist at Marlatt Hall, a residence hall I stayed at for my first two semesters at K-State. Halo (the first iteration) was brand-new, and the "in thing" at Marlatt, so everybody (except for the more avid studying types) wanted to play that award-winning and revolutionary first-person shooter. There were a lot more distractions, like anime movies in an anime geek's room, but that's not the focus of this journal entry.

All of that caused me to slip on my studies and academic performance. I was too concerned with my desire to satiate myself with fun, more than I was with doing well in school. We did get a warning early on, that any freshman who gets under a 1.0 GPA their Fall semester would be dismissed, and that this warning was the only warning. (Any student with a 1.0 to a 1.99 would get put on "Academic Warning," with the stipulation that they pull their semester GPA above a 2.0 to continue being a K-Stater.

Sometime after the end of that semester, I checked for my grades on KATS (a precursor to iSIS,) and I had failed ALL my classes that I hadn't already withdrawn from. (I withdrew from French and Expository Writing I before the final drop deadline on the last week of October.) My academic status read: "Dismissal"

I planned on pleading my case through DSS and to my Engineering Dean - about how this PILOTS program for freshmen was to have me "fly through college instead of drag," and therefore help improve my academic standing that semester, but that by the time I heard about it in about the 1st or 2nd week of October, the program was full and couldn't accept any more students. Meanwhile, I put it off so I could enjoy my Christmas Break with my family.

Spring 2004

Sometime in the 1st week of January, Mom got the dismissal notification letter first. (I had planned to intercept it at the post office.) We had an argument, then I told her of my plan to appeal and override the dismissal. I typed up an essay with my pleadings as to why I should be given a second chance. The next day (or so), she sent me off to Manhattan to give it to DSS and Dean Ray Hightower.

I first had it critiqued by the head of DSS, and she gave praises and other positive remarks about the essay, so that greatly increased my hope. (I also had printouts of lists of successful and prominent luminaries who have/had the same pre-existing condition that I do, so I could show the Dean how, if I'm given a second chance, and the accommodations that go with this second chance, that I could end up on that list someday.)

I then met with the Dean, and won my second chance! He then proceeded to give me a motivating pep talk about how I must improve my academics that spring because if I fail again, I wouldn't need "to waste anymore of my money" and that I'd have to find a wholly different path in life. Next, Ray produced and filled out the forms to make a backdated withdrawal on all of my failed classes, and gave me directions on where to send these forms. (I believe it was Willard Hall first, then Eisenhower Hall second.)

I happily closed the meeting and excitedly did just that. Even though the trip to each hall was a 5-10-minute walk, it felt as brisk as a motor-scooter ride. Time flew during the time that it took to complete all my backdated withdrawals!

Later, I met with Rebecca Paz, an assistant head of the PILOTS program and advisor, who wanted to make sure that I succeeded so much, that she stipulated that I am to only take 7 credit hours in the Spring of 2004 if I was going to be a part of the PILOTS program, a program I learned to covet being in so much. I hesitated at first, because there were plenty of classes I wanted to be in, but I had to learn to put them off for the future. Therefore, I enrolled in 7 credits and didn't have to move out of Marlatt Hall after all. Upon returning to Marlatt, I told my hallmates how excited I was to be back, therefore disproving some of their hypotheses that I was going to fail out! (Somebody did find one of my graded College Algebra tests that previous fall, so the word spread that I was most likely going to fail out of there.)

I went through the Spring more easily than the Fall, due to my reduced credit load, and passed that semester.

Summer 2004

Then Hell hit.

I was forced to live in a very run-down apartment of one of the rental properties they owned, because I didn't have a stable income (only mowing lawns for $25 per yard was the best I could get) and being college-aged, they wanted me to be self-sufficient, so they didn't want me to live with and mooch off of them at their house back in Chapman the whole summer.

My car couldn't start, and Mom made me enroll in a free summer class ANYWAY on the Fort Riley campus of Barton County CC. She told me to ride my bike, ALL THE WAY FROM JUNCTION CITY, and up Custer Hill, to get to that class. I had a stopwatch, so on my first day that I had to ride my bike, I timed 44 minutes, 31 seconds from my apartment to the class building's bike rack. (I believe it was actually a step handrail.) I was also about 20-25 minutes late because I mis-estimated how long it would take to pedal there. I also had developed a tan-line of my tank-top that same day!

Later, I got my beater jump-started and was able to drive to class and back, but it was still a 15-minute commute, and I didn't (and still don't) like long commutes. Eventually, the fact that I don't like mornings, plus my dreadful commutes, caused me to miss a lot of classes, so I had to drop that summer class.

Summer was drawing to a close, and I still owed $3,292 on my Residence Hall rent. (In the 2003-2004 school-year, the rent for a regular room in the Residence Halls totaled $2,400 per semester, with a 20-meal dining plan. It was still exorbitant compared to my rent at an off-campus apartment THIS year, which is $3,500 for 10 months before utilities.) That caused me to be unable to enroll.

Fall 2004

Later, Mom, in one of her rare acts of grace, decided to pay the $3,292 to Housing & Dining. However, Rebecca Paz said that PILOTS already had 167 students enrolled in that program by that time, so I couldn't get in, which discouraged me from enrolling. I did get a job at a tedious (for employees) fast-food store in Manhattan, so I was going to have a class or two at K-State before going to work, which would ensure that I would never be late for work. JC to Manhattan was a 20-odd-mile commute, which I grew to hate of course.

I decided to try again with the free college at Fort Riley, as I was so financially desperate at the time. It was held sometime in the late morning, and I did well going to the Econ class many times for a while, but I still missed a few classes because I would be a late-waker. Then when I found out that I missed a test, I had to drop that course as well. It was a half-semester-long course, so I enrolled in a couple more classes for the next half. They were 5 days a week, and I hated that it had to be that often.

After the first 3 days, I started to miss classes again. The fact that my squalid apartment didn't let in hardly any sunlight was no help to my circadian rhythm. (I find that even if I fell asleep at 5 in the morning on the 3rd floor of our Lindsborg home years later, the AMPLE light shining through that floor's windows caused me to get up, fairly energized, at 10! Sunlight can certainly make short work of my body's process to regain energy in my slumber.)

Eventually, I had to drop those classes too.

Homeless in Spring 2005

By January 2005, I was getting so thoroughly fed up at my Junction City apartment, and the 20-mile long commute to my miserable job, that I had decided to enroll for classes at K-State ANYWAY. Sure, my apartment was one of the WORST environments to focus and study in, but I didn't plan to live in that hellhole any longer. I decided to sleep in the Hale library, and mooch off of my friends by staying at their residence halls on weekends. There, I would also shower and do other great things to hygienically take care of myself.

Being homeless and a library dweller was FAR better than living in my apartment and commuting because the library was FAR more opulent, and even though the best I could sleep in were only the two-cushion couches that were as long as I was tall when I was 12 or 13, they suddenly seemed to me like king-sized massaging memory foam beds! This was significantly an improvement of my living accommodations, though it was less something to want to divulge to casual friends and new acquaintances than before. ("I sleep in the library," as opposed to "I have an apartment.")

I enrolled in 8 credits. If I was going to pass them, I would have only accumulated 15 credit hours in TWO years. I couldn't get myself to enroll full-time because I knew that reduced sleep and the vagaries of homelessness would not be the best environment to work a full-time course load in.

Despite the reduced credit load, the vagaries of homelessness still took a toll on my academics, so I didn't even accumulate the full 8. I had to retake a couple of the classes in future semesters in order to advance (and with something respectable.)

Because a government department ruled that my pre-existing condition made me less employable, I got an SSI income! I started receiving it in March or April, but since I mailed in the application that last October, they decided to backdate my pay, therefore, I netted over $2,000 in my account!

New digs, and a new confidence in Summer and Fall 2005

That summer, I started looking for a place to rent. My family let me stay at their house every night because they knew I was certainly on the road to getting my own place to live! This was another improvement in my living accommodations. Eventually, I found an apartment owned by Manhattan Christian College. It was a hugely excellent location - just a block and a half south of Nichols Hall, and even though the apartment was a basement unit, it was clean and well-maintained, carpet newly shampooed, and most certainly a vast number of steps up in quality from my old apartment in Junction City. We did the paperwork, had my Mom co-sign the lease (so that she pays in case I start being unable to for some reason, which fortunately hasn't happened yet,) and I got the keys to it and the mailbox, on June 30, 2005.

I had thought that my academics would experience a VAST improvement, now that I had a highly decent place to stay, this time without all the distractions that the residence halls have. I happily enjoyed the rest of the summer and prepared to return to college that August.

I enrolled in 13 credits, confident that my vastly improved living situation would allow me to thrive with it. Things seemed going smoothly for a while. Then I used my student loan refunds to purchase a new PC from Dell, at a total cost of $1,381.25. I then used it also to buy some award-winning video games, like "Jedi Knight II: Jedi Academy." I defeated that game in 2 weeks, and played other great games that semester.

An All-Withdrawal, once again

Which turned out to be a detriment to my academics. I asked my advisor to get progress reports from all my instructors. When they came back several days later, none of them sounded good. I also had trouble getting up in the mornings like before. I guess it was the basement's low sunlight penetration (even though there was more sunlight let in than my previous dump of an apartment.) What broke my semester the most though, was my tendency to stay up deep into the night playing games and surfing the Internet much of the time. I had enrolled in an 8:30 University Experience class confident that I would have loud enough alarm clocks to get me up no matter how tired I'd be. At the beginning of that semester, the head of the PILOTS program at the time, Anita Cortez, had warned me that I would have to get "a Big Ben" in response to my being so confident over getting up so early.

It was the last week of October and things weren't looking good for any of my classes at all. The only chance I had at keeping on going at K-State is if I withdrew from all my classes and came back that Spring. I had the PILOTS advisor, Barrett Bowlin, drop all my classes. After that, we still met on a weekly basis to plan how I was going to improve next semester. I also got a notification from the Cashier's Office (or was it Financial Aid?) that $636.80 was returned by K-State to Sallie Mae (or the Department of Education) and this is how much I owed. I still managed to enroll for next semester though.

Spring 2006

Barrett stipulated that I enroll part-time again, so I did. I came out just fine with a 2.5 semester GPA by the end of Spring 2006. Only counting the passed classes that counted towards graduation, I had netted a total of just 12 credit-hours in three years.

Fall 2006

I doubled that total in just one semester that following fall, with all B's. Having earned a 3.0 semester GPA, that was academically, and still is, my best semester ever at Kansas State University.

Fall 2006 was also when I started to max out my "alternative" (private signature) loans. I had used it to pay off my entire $5,000 credit card balance, tune up my car, and eat out at the Union Food Court more often. Unfortunately, I turned right around and spent with that credit card like a terminal cancer patient! I was living the high life for a while, and even got "convenience checks" sent to me, which were checks for my credit card. My parents have told me for a while that I was to pay them back their Parent PLUS loans, so when I had this line of credit, I happily wrote them the check for the ~$1,540 that I owed them.

Spring 2007, and Ben Kohl's LONG memory

The next semester, my sights were set for Studying Abroad in Japan. I filled out whatever paperwork I needed to, then the time came to meet with Ben Kohl, an Assistant Director of Financial Aid who was specially assigned to advise students planning to Study Abroad. He actually remembered me from my Freshman year! This was indicated by him asking, "Hey, I think you're graduating at around this time, aren't you?" I asked, "What?" He repeated, so I replied, "Now what makes you say that?!"

He stated that he remembered me from the Kramer Dining Center I used to have my meals at. I then recalled that he was one of their employees that year; I didn't recall his specific job. I just told him that, "Oh, I've changed my major several times, so I know I still have a while to go!" He was okay with that response; numerous other K-Staters have this situation too.

I then inquired about how he could possibly remember me out of the THOUSANDS of students he must've dealt with in the 3 3/4 years between these times! He just stated, "I remember lots of people!"

We both went to his cubicle, and he loaded up my electronic dossier on a Staff-only vector of KATS/iSIS. He gave the screen a miffed look, then asked, "You only have 24 credit-hours?!"

"What? No way! Well in that case, it'll be 37 when this semester's done."

"So what's been your situation this past 4 years then?!"

"I had to take a part-time credit load a few times because the college routine was a lot to get used to, and some bad life situations happened."

"You also took some semesters off from going to K-State, didn't you?"

"Well, ONE semester, yeah. It was for financial reasons; I couldn't afford a place to stay that time."

Ben proceeded to process my unique financial aid that I would need for my trip to Japan, but his discovery and long memory had made my lethargic progress finally caught up to me!

At just 37 credit-hours in 4 years, I knew I was in it for the long haul. In that amount of time, assuming that a typical K-Stater only took the minimum required to be considered full-time at 12 credit-hours per semester, I only accumulated 37/96ths of what a consistently full-time student would have at least had, which is about ~38.542% of the progress that I should've been making.

Studying in Japan

I will not go further in-depth about my credit-hour progress anymore, but in the Spring & Summer of 2008, I studied in Japan. I got all the extra Financial Aid needed to finance my trip, and used plenty of that money to buy the laptop that I am typing on right now.

My semester in Japan went well academically: It didn't matter as much what grades I got; the grades determined pass/fail, and on all my classes, I passed, so I added 12 more credit-hours at that time.

Fall 2008

A short time after my 15-day hop back to Kansas, I had to take out a great amount in private loans to pay Mom back another $3,000 she had me borrow from her for an unforeseen expense in Japan, and I used some of the same loan refund to buy a $564 washlet that I have gotten enjoyably accustomed to while living in the Land of the Rising Sun. I don't like to discuss it much, but I DREADED the prospect of returning to the old way after flying back to the United States.

Spring 2009

As most of my loans designated for the Spring semester were already tapped out in an emergency funding to finance my return home, I was only able to tap $744 in Spring 2009. I used most of it to pay off a chunk of my credit-card debt.

A 2012 Apocalypse could wipe my slate clean of student loans! Or so I thought.

I maxed out taking out my alternative loans from Fall 2006 because I went under the spell of believing that the over-hyped 2012 apocalypse was going to destroy Sallie Mae and cause my student loans to be forgiven while I hid out in a bomb shelter somewhere. (I greatly encourage you to view "2012" in theaters this November 13th! Watch this trailer below:)

That spell was broken when I checked my academic progress sometime in the March of 2009 and realized that I would fail out that semester if I didn't pull up, as I had already gotten a Warning that previous Fall. I had 12 credits that Fall, but had to drop an Expos II course and a couple of CIS classes because something botched and I was playing too much Spore that time. Also, my Expository Writing II instructor didn't have the most pleasing disposition either. You can imagine the grades on the classes I kept.

That's why I took 8 credit-hours the following Spring. In the beginning, I added ECON 120 (Microeconomics) as a "dummy class" (or "filler class") so that I would get a financial aid refund from dropping it before the 100% refund deadline.

I pulled up in my grades and got a "B" in Expository Writing II. Abby Knoblauch was a far more amicable and easygoing teacher than my previous Expos II instructor was.

In the meantime, my personal policy is that if I get any less than a "C" as a final grade in any of my classes, I MUST repeat them until I pull it up. That is what I've done for some of my classes already, and I was doing no different for COMM 323 - Interpersonal Communication. I got a "D" in it that previous Fall, and was on a track to getting an "F" in the repeat of it this Spring, but I put forth the extra effort to pull it up. Sadly though, I was just 2.5% away from breaking a "C" by semester's end, so I will have to take it the third time in Spring 2010.

My spell broke!

While I was in those classes, my initial poor progress put me under threat of a dismissal, and being under threat of dismissal broke my spell!

When I was under threat of dismissal, I called Sallie Mae to have them calculate how much I would have to pay back in loans every month if I quit school this Spring. The amount they stated: $556 (and change.)

I told them that this wouldn't be possible, as I wouldn't have enough leftover for rent, much less other necessities, then they calculated a reduced rate plan. The reduced rate would be about ~$320 a month. After JUST rent, I would only have $4 left over every month.

I couldn't have either. I asked them how it would be possible to lower it to $40/month, Sallie Mae's absolute minimum loan-paying rate for any student loan, because I could handle $40/month no problem. They said that this wouldn't work, but that I can apply for Economic Forbearance.

After getting off the phone, I learned that I can only be under the "Economic Forbearance" condition for up to 4 years (or was it 2?) I tried to contemplate how I'd be living and saving up to start paying it back while I would live these 4 years, then figured that the daily worries over this loan coming back would stress me to no end, and high stress causes undue health issues.

This new, large worry also caused me to heavily think, "And even if I still don't have to pay back those loans to December 21, 2012, what if that day just comes and goes? What if there is NO APOCALYPSE?"

I thought about that for a while, then it was decided. My spell was broken and I no longer wanted to borrow private loans like there was no tomorrow. I was not going to hold the mentality and thought process of a "healthy terminal cancer patient" anymore. I was going to stop taking out private loans, and start paying them back while I still went to college!

Paying back starting from Fall 2009

You see, private loans are stricter in making us pay them back than federally-guaranteed loans are.

Private loans have a fixed per-month payment plan (or two, apparently,) no matter how much income the former student earns.

Public loans, on the other hand, are far more flexible and lenient with the former student - they allow the student to choose to pay back a percentage of their income. (I personally, would choose to pay back 10% of my income each month. I can live with that.) (The minimum percentage rate is 4%.) That's not the only option; there are more payment plans available with these public loans, but I'll not go into them here.

Therefore, I have decided to pay for my private loans with my public loans. I already took care of the first - the $744 loan from Spring 2009 that had a 12.125% interest rate - the highest of them all.

Now that I am also receiving the Pell, Eisenhower and SEOG grants, paying these other debts have gotten easier. I also used these public loan & grant refunds to pay off the remaining credit card balance - about $3300-$3400 of the $5000 credit line.

Future plans to pay the rest off

I will then use my next semester's disbursements to pay off my next worst private loan on the list, and will keep going until all private loans are paid off, which will take MANY semesters. Then the unsubsidized public loans will be paid off by the grants and subsidized public loans, then the subsidized public loans come next by the Perkins and grants, then the Perkins Loans come last by the grant refunds.

Currently, I owe $57,808.14, and the projected monthly payment has risen to $605.31. While I get $674/month in SSI in 2009, that is not at all any way to live! Moreover, at this point, you can imagine how long I would take to pay back my loans with the strategy described in the above paragraph.

K-State's tuition and fees rise every semester, and the state university routine is getting old, so that is why I plan to join the Navy or Air Force this summer. They promise a dissolution of all my student loans after 3 years of service, and if they can't pay back every last one of them, at least my military income ought to suffice.

If I can't join the military though, I will start taking classes at Manhattan Area Technical college, whose tuition is less than half of K-State's. Therefore, paying higher-interest loans with the refunds of grants and lower-interest loans, will be a quicker process through being enrolled at MATC. After transferring as many credits as I can there from K-State, I will have a head-start. Once I earn an associate's degree at MATC, I'll look for a job in town. If I can't find it after one summer, then I guess I'll have to start on 2nd associate's degree until I finally land a job.


After so many years of dragging through a state university, I have come to the notion that the routine at a state university might not be for me after all. Thomas Edison didn't go to any kind of college whatsoever, and look at what he became anyhow! For me, a technical college might be my better fit. I haven't gone to one so I won't yet know for sure, but I would sure hope so.

I've grown up in a military family, so I may be better suited to the military than I think. All I have to do is pass all my health checks and other checks at MEPS, then I get sworn in.

I have accumulated a total of only 63 credit hours and this is my 7th year at K-State (6 excluding the Fall 2004 semester that I wasn't enrolled, and Spring 2008 semester that I was in Japan, but my 7th year in any college.) This is nothing to be too proud about, but at least it gives me a considerable head-start if I enroll in a technical college.

I'm on track to having 79 credits by December, which means that assuming I take a full-time load again this spring, in May, I will finally be a SENIOR!!!

This is one more reason why I don't like to give my age. One time in August, when I took my sister to synagogue (our family is split by 2 religions and 2 denominations), as I got acquainted with the members there, they asked me what year I was, and I told them that I'm currently a Junior.

About 15-20 minutes later, while we were having their dinner, one of the senior asked how old I was. When I told him, the girl sitting across from me looked and sounded upset when she asked the member next to her, "And he said he was a Junior???"

I do not want a repeat of that situation, even though we did part ways on a good note. (That was evidently her "tatemae," and her "honne" still likely remained worse at that point. I learned those two terms when I studied in Japan.)

Many of my friends ran through college like a brook or a rapid. Some even whizzed through as straight as a canal. If the time I take to progress in college was analogized in how straight our rivers run, my river would be one of the most meandering rivers in the country, with a few oxbow lakes along the route. (In this analogy, oxbow lakes are the semesters and/or classes I withdrew from.)

Eventually, we reach the ocean, a lake, or a bigger river. It's almost inevitable. I say almost because I once read that the Rio Grande ends about 50 feet before the coastline. Illegal immigrants were able to simply drive across the exposed sand to get to our Promised Land. The Border Patrol have since constructed a berm to stop those drives.

I do not want my academic career to end up like the Rio Grande. I want it to pour into something bigger, and even though the hardships of college life have slowed me down, it has not managed to stop me. I have persevered, and I will go on - to either the Apocalypse, or a post-college career. I will not; I cannot stop simply at the taking of the scroll while wearing a cap & gown, because there is one more step and at this point, you all know what that is. If I cannot pass that step, I go back to college. If I do pass, then I will be financially secure and not dread the loans any longer. In short, I will have finally reached adulthood.


  1. Christian,

    this is a memoir of your financial college life. It could really turn into something long if you gave each paragraph its own page to fill up. I feel like sometimes you are rushing a bit just to get through the story and because you assume readers won't be very interested in the number crunching. Don't believe it. Inquiring readers like detail! If you did some research about how common this type of situation is and compared your numbers to other statistics, you'd have lit. journalism here. If you included more background on your "condition" and family life you'd have a memoir. More comparison of friends lives and others in similar situations and you'd have a cultural critique.

  2. Yes, this situation would be very common.

    It gave me a great idea about how American university life can go wrong.

    I used to think that university/college ages didn't matter that much because there were mature students. And then there were upfront fees at the previous enrolling year.

    Technical college might really work for you. Or business management.

    University is about so much more than the finances.

    Spore is a wonderful distraction. What do you think of Sims 2 University? I have been giving up Sims 3 to play this expansion pack.

    Only in the past few years (as of 2000-01) in the UK have they had to pay fees, and in Australia, there is the Higher Education Contributions Scheme.

    And the student loan thing has been going since 1991 in the US, at least for the generation before you.

  3. Wow... You don't take responsibility for ANY of your poor choices and bad decisions, do you? That will NOT fly in the Navy. If you manage to get in, you'll likely find yourself in the brig or worse.

    GROW UP!