The Road Often Traveled: My Story of Student Loan Debt


Dexter L. McCoy discussed college affordability and student loans with Secretary Arne Duncan and Dr. Jill Biden. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Bogalusa, the Louisiana town where I was born, is far from an example of economic success or upward mobility. With high unemployment and abject poverty, education is the only option for individuals who want to move beyond the community.

I was born to a teenage mother who, despite having a child when she was still a child herself, worked hard to achieve more than was expected in Bogalusa. She was fortunate to have hard-working parents who supported her, and she earned a scholarship to attend Louisiana State University. Yet, my mom had to take on the burden of significant student loans. My stepfather, son of a schoolteacher and an electrician, found that he, too, had to take out sizable loans. Years later, I was fortunate that my parents made sacrifices that took me away from Bogalusa to Houston, where I had exposure to more opportunity.

Going to college was seen as mandatory in my family. But, when they looked at just how much higher education would cost, their zeal for sending me to get my degree was dampened. Simply put, the $52,000 in tuition and fees at a university in Boston — a school I loved and wanted to attend — were too much for my parents to pay. Even with a partial scholarship, the education I sought was unaffordable for us. Like many middle-class Americans, my parents did not make enough to pay for my school, out-of-pocket, but earned too much for me to get enough financial aid. So, I had to take out student loans.

I was blessed with parents who helped pay for my education, despite still paying off their own student loans. I was also fortunate to work at on-campus jobs that helped ease the financial burden on my family. It was a lot to manage on top of being very active in campus leadership and having a rigorous course load, but somehow we found a way to make it work.

My time in college did not come without its share of problems, though. I had medical issues arise that required test upon test and numerous hospital visits in search of answers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mounting financial burden became huge: my family was forced to decide if I would get the treatment I needed or continue paying for school. This choice is not one that any family should have to make.

We are told from an early age that college is the commodity necessary to have a stable, solid lifestyle and to be contributing members of society. The reality is, though, that college expenses are so great that many, including me, will have to work that much harder for years to get ahead of the tens of thousands of dollars we’ve had to take out in loans. It is a sobering thought, but one that we must face.

What other choice do we have?

Dexter L. McCoy graduated from college in May 2014. He recently attended a conversation on college affordability with Sec. Arne Duncan and Dr. Jill Biden, where he discussed his experiences with student loan debt.


  1. Just to play devil’s advocate (and now that I am not immune to the struggles of making a living while paying off student loans myself), Dexter did not have to attend a $50K+ per year school. There are public institutions that provide quality educations at a lower cost. Being in Boston, my guess is there might have been other reasons as to why he wanted to attend his chosen school but in an article talking about the cost of education, I just wanted to throw out the thought that there are other options.

  2. Dexter’s story is nearly identical to mine. I had to drop out due to medical issues and go back. I worked three jobs at one point, then found a full-time job and it still didn’t pay enough for me to live and pay tuition. I have about $80,000 in student loans from my undergrad and master’s degree. The current financial aid system is broken for most students in this nation. The current solutions aren’t working.

  3. I have an incredibly burdensome and unaffordable amount of student loan debt ($270,000 between federal and private loans) for my undergraduate tuition and law school. Between my naivete of my ability to pay back loans after graduation and the amount of interest and forbearance fees, I have racked up the cost of a house in student loans. Now at 33, I am unable to afford to buy my own home or plan to have children because, even though I have a well paying job in the government sector, I am unable to afford life on my own. I hope that something can be done to alleviate the problems we face as student loan borrowers. I don’t want want to be rich. I just want to be able to buy my own home and afford to start a family.

    • I have student loans of $75,000 and I live paycheck tp paycheck. Sometimes I don’t even get a check because it is dispersed before it gets deposited in the bank. I wpork in an impovershed community and have to step in for the Ed staff yet I have yet to get accepted for student loan relief or forgiveness. Many are suffering from depression. I continue to hold on for help. Be strong!

  4. I’m a personal friend of Dexter’s, so I can tell you that he has some of the most incredible potential out of anyone I’ve ever met. But you’ve read his story for yourself; the growing reality is that college is becoming too expensive for people like Dexter and I to afford.

    The rising cost of a higher education is symbolic of a changing culture that is either forgetting or ignoring the importance of education. Horace Mann, arguably the father of modern education, once said that education was “the great equalizer of the conditions of man”.

    I ask you, how can education be this when rising costs are driving away the goal of equality?

    College has been described to me time and time again as a mechanism for turning eager students into productive, worthwhile members of society.

    So why do we pretend to care about the value of our society while our local governments (at least, in Oklahoma, where I am from) continue to cut funding for education and its programs?

    It’s time to get real about the dilemma of crippling student debt. I hope Dexter’s story convinces many to do so.

  5. I think the student loan crisis is a revolving issue that has run its regulatory cycle. 20 plus year cycle again. This means too many poor, under,aware of the effect loans are to their lives. It is ruining thousands, and the Department knows it, Not fare!.. Stop the student loan mess for those taking mediokor class that don’t lead to a job, nor the ability to pay back. students enroll just for a so call (refund check).

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