Faces of debt

CAREERS AND ED ISSUE: For these three students, debt from attending California schools will affect their lives for years to come

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Teacher Ben Gleason's student debt contributed to his decision to leave the classroom for a higher-paying career

caitlin@sfbg.com

CAREERS AND ED In this weeks' issue, Rebecca Bowe examines rising tuition and its effect on this generation of Californian students. Here, we profile three scholars that are dealing with very real repercussions from their student debt load.

 

BEN GLEASON, 31

Mills College, teaching credential

Oberlin College, American literature major

Total debt: $25,000

Ben Gleason remembers the day that he applied for his $10,000 student loan from Citibank to finance his teaching credential tuition. "I got it done online within a half hour. I didn't have to talk to anybody or write an essay — easy money with severe consequences." The consequences of such a serious financial decision — sans the aid of any counseling from either his school or bank? Gleason's eventual decision to leave classroom teaching.

It's not an uncommon story for this generation of teaching school graduates, in a state where teaching salaries are hardly keeping pace with rising tuition. Gleason started working as an ESL teacher in Richmond's underfunded West Contra Costa Unified School District right after graduating from Mills College. His student loans were overwhelming — a problem that was exacerbated when he took a trip to Guatemala to work and improve his ability to communicate with his Spanish-speaking pupils. To remain afloat financially, Gleason applied for a forbearance on his loans and was surprised to return home after two years to a loan that had gone up by 25 percent due to interest. "I was really, really screwed," he recalls.

Gleason didn't feel like there was any way he could go back to his teaching salary, so to support his new wife (the two met in Guatemala) and daughter, he decided to start his own business with the help of an old boss — a private firm that helps reeducate state government workers on sustainability issues.

That means one less qualified teacher for low-income Californian children. And Gleason still has 15 to 20 years left of debt payments. "I wish that there was a more systemic way to solve this problem," says the former public educator.

 

ANNE MOSTAD-JENSEN, 28

Santa Clara University, law degree

College of St. Catherine St. Paul, library sciences

Concordia University St. Paul, international studies and history major

Total debt (estimated at graduation): $120,000

Anne Mostad-Jensen and her twin sister grew up in a small Minnesota town. They attended the same college, Concordia St. Paul, where they both majored in history and international studies. After that, they went on to College of St. Catherine (also in St. Paul) to get their master's degrees in library science. But then their paths diverged. Her sister traveled to Denmark in pursuit of her Danish citizenship — their father is Danish — and was able to complete her master's in a country where the government pays for most of its citizens' educations. Mostad-Jensen remained in Minnesota, to continue on in the American university system.

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