OPINION – From the beginning, I was told by my parents to “get your college degree and get you a good job.” Coming from parents who both hold Master’s degrees, you would expect their children to follow in their footsteps and of course I took it a bit too far — I had to get that PhD. My own student loan debt is around $165,000 at 3.4 percent. OUCH!!!

The dollar amount of student loan debt has now exceeded the amount of credit card debt. In America, student loan debt exceeds $1 trillion, $864 billion in federal loans and $150 billion in private.

Unlike my parents who received grants, scholarships, and worked to pay for four-year bachelor’s degrees — I can still hear my mother saying, “I picked cotton to pay for my first semester of college,” YUK — the price for getting a quality education has increased 1,000 percent making two-thirds of students who earn four-year bachelor’s degrees graduate with an average students loan debt or more than $25,000 loans (American Progress, 2012).

Eighty-one percent of African Americans and 67 percent of Latino students who earned bachelor’s degrees compared to 64 percents of White students are saddled with student loan debt. Student debt may be a sign of economical progress, but student debt hampers investing for retirement.

This brings me to the topic, is a college education still relevant for African Americans and what types of degrees should African Americans pursue?

I say yes, people earning a bachelor’s degree earn $23,300 more than someone with a high school diploma. However, research your career choice before entering into college. Sure it is great to land employment that you love, whether you are in the work force or entrepreneur; however you will probably change your career at least three times before settling down to one.

Yes, student debt is real and relevant. It should be handled very carefully before signing on the dotted line. Understand whether the loan is subsided or unsubsidized, whether the loan is accruing interest while you are still attending school, what the interest rate is and if you can consolidate the loans. This is too important to your future.

Anita R. Johnson, Money Wisdom for Women
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