A Happy Student Loan Monday

A wise man should have his money in his head, not in his heart. ~ Jonathan Swift

I did not grow up in a family with a lot of money. Luckily I was born with a big brain and did well in school so I was able to gain some scholarships as I headed off to college. College was a big deal where I grew up, only a couple of us got out of my neighborhood that way. Most of the kids in my neighborhood went right to work, into the army or into jail right after high school.

My college plans were not deeply thought out. My high school counselor had also been my little league and peewee bowling coach. He brought me into his office for the big career and college talk during high school. He said to me that since I was good in math and science, and my dad worked for the power company, electrical engineering made sense. I said ok, and as I applied to college, electrical engineering it was.

I had two criteria for college, first I needed to stay in state because I had no chance of paying for out of state tuition. Second, I wanted to be as far away from my family as I could get. I really didn’t get along with my father and wanted to maximize that distance. Luckily, New York State is both long and wide and I went wide, a full five and a half hour drive west of my family home.

Initially, I was doing a 2+3 program with Eisenhower College and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). This meant I would do my general education work at Eisenhower for the first two years and then transfer to RIT for engineering and coop work. Then three weeks before I was leaving for college, I got the one and only telegram of my life. Someone knocked on the door, I answered, and they said, “telegram for Michael Kane.” The telegram informed me that Eisenhower College was being closed down and I would now be starting my education directly at RIT. Like everything else in my life, not even my educational path went in a straight line. This was also when I took my first student loans. Although I had several thousands of dollars in scholarships, RIT cost $12,000 a year and so I, and my parents, took student loans as a way to pay for my education and living expenses.

So I shuffled off, nearly to Buffalo and started my college experience stacked up in a triple roommate situation in a double room in a dormitory that also served as the home of a fraternity. Being out from under my father finally, I fully cut loose. In my first semester I pledged the fraternity and started drinking pretty heavily. Over the next year and a half I would progress into full-blown alcoholism and become an addict. Not too mention, decimate my GPA, culminating in a 0.27 GPA my last semester when I was academically dismissed.

I bounced through the Phoenix Program, a program to resurrect the career of students who had gone off the path to success. In engineering programs, that often has a lot to do with poor math skills. Of course I’d come in with AP math credit for the first two semesters of calculus and had completed calc 3, linear algebra and differential equations. Which was a higher level of math than the person doing the math testing actually had completed. So I was also dismissed from the Phoenix Program. I finally met with someone for whom I will be eternally grateful, the first person who ever spoke absolute truth to me and he was a dean. And for the last twenty years as a dean, I’ve tried to emulate his example of helping students by being truthful and honest with them. Dean Kenyon brought me in, looked through my file, put it down, looked at me and smiled, then he said. “I’ve looked through your file, you’re an incredibly intelligent young man, I see the Phoenix Program report and I’ve come to a conclusion, you’re a fuck up.” The early 80s were quite obviously a different time in education. He then explained that if I wanted, he would readmit me immediately, but if I had a single quarter under 2.00, I was out permanently with no appeal. He also explained that even the best students often ended up on probation at some point. So we sat there in silence for a few minutes and finally I said, “I think it’s time I go home.” Dean Kenyon smiled and said, “Good, you are as smart as I think you are.” He then told me that once I got my shit together if I wanted to come back, just to contact him and he’d readmit me with no conditions. I never did, but that combination of honesty, as well as compassion, caring and a demonstration of faith was incredibly beneficial to me.

Unfortunately, I never really did a good job early on, or hell, later on, figuring out my path in school. So I took a very non-linear, nineteen year journey through my educational pathway and into the workforce. This included an associates degree, two bachelor degrees, a masters degree and ABD on a PhD, not too mention a year of law school. This all meant a lot of student loans and eventually a total debt of $200,000 including $140,000 in student loans.

And I want to say a bit about that. After failing out of college the first time, my parents made it clear that I had blown my chance and any financial support they had. That hurt, but I understood, we didn’t have much money and my sister was also about to go to college. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to college and after getting clean and sober, I eventually got my shit together and worked my way through college and the loans and credit card debt that made that possible. Without that debt I would not be where I am today, making more money than my parents ever dreamed of making, and being 18 months out from retiring at 60 with a very good pension that should give me a comfortable retirement. The very definition of good debt, although I realize it’s not that way for everyone and why I support student loan forgiveness. I even held out some hope that I might actually qualify for the Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness Program. I had applied for loan forgiveness about 15 years ago, and even though my work qualified, because I hadn’t been in a particular type of repayment plan, I was denied.

This past week has sucked, I hurt my knee then I hurt my back. That wasn’t enough self-inflicted pain, I also bit through my lip while eating so badly that 5 days later I’m still not able to eat or brush my teeth without being in a significant amount of pain. Work was it’s normal circus, my ex-girlfriend of course picked this week for her bi-annual emotional drive-by and the standard familial insanity reared its ugly head. Then toward the end of the week, the kicker. The Biden administration had made changes to the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program making it less restrictive so that those of us who hadn’t previously qualified now could. On Thursday I received a letter informing me that I was once again denied for the loan forgiveness program.

So, it’s important to turn things around when possible. So I did my best this week to turn things around, particularly by bringing some toy duck jeeps designed by my little cousin to the toddlers at our child development center and I added to my garden. Hanging out with the munchkins always puts me in a better mood. And today, I made a decision that while the government has decided not to forgive the remainder of my loans, it’s time to finalize this chapter of my life.

I took a total of $140,000 in student loans, I have repaid over $280,000 back to the government for the privilege of receiving that assistance. I was scheduled to finish repaying these loans in 2032, so I feel pretty good getting them paid off nine years early. Monday morning, (I was still 17 when I took the first loan), will be the first day of my adult life when I will wake up not owing the government for my student loans, what I believe will make for a very happy Monday. Hope yours is as well my friends. ~ Rev Kane

About Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.
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2 Responses to A Happy Student Loan Monday

  1. Pingback: A Happy Student Loan Monday – Higher Ed Mentor

  2. Steven C. Smith says:


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