What kind of difference has the move made in these women's lives? Try $65,000 of student debt. That's because Mostad-Jensen's sister, even after completing her master's and attending one of the Icelandic languages programs she's currently applying for, will only owe roughly $55,000 worth of loans — all from her time at American schools. Mostad-Jensen, who is now attending law school at Santa Clara University, will owe $120,000 by the time she graduates. "I've never had any consumer debt, but I've always told myself not to pass up educational opportunities just because I didn't have the cash on hand," she says.
Mostad-Jensen wants to work at the intersection of international copyright and technology law, possibly in a law library, a specialty career that benefits from degrees in multiple areas of study. She counts herself lucky that homeownership and a family aren't her immediate goals. "Having a family — I just don't understand how people do it with debt these days." Her Midwestern community values come to the fore when she talks about the U.S. government's inability to provide Americans with affordable education. "Isn't the government an extension of the community? Europeans, the lack of stress they have by not having to pay out of pocket for health care and education — I mean they can actually live their lives."
RAMON QUINTERO, 32
UC Berkeley, geography major
Total debt: $25,000
Ramon Quintero is a UC Berkeley student activist, but he wasn't always radicalized around debt issues. "I didn't come to Berkeley because of its activist reputation. I became an activist because of my situation," he says. Quintero could no longer pay for his student housing and wound up living in his 1979 Toyota truck with camper shell on the streets of Berkeley, sending his baby daughter home to live with her grandmother.
Quintero came to Berkeley via Southern California, where his family landed after immigrating from Sinaloa, Mexico, when he was 11. He attended community college to get his core credits before coming to Berkeley, where rapidly rising tuition fees are putting a strain on the student community. Although he is a legal resident, Quintero was especially concerned about the effect that the rising cost of education was having on undocumented students.
And, of course, on his leaky camper shell roof. He sprang into action, driving a truck that he calls Santa Rita, to all nine UC campuses, encouraging fellow students to paint art on it that spoke to their concerns for the future of public education. Quintero was arrested twice for his roles in campus protests and he and Santa Rita were profiled in The New York Times and several California newspapers. Suddenly, the university found space for him in student housing.
"I saw the hypocrisy in the system," says Quintero, who has fulfilled all his UC coursework for graduation but has convinced a professor to hold credit for one of his courses for another semester so he could go on a research fellowship to Madrid. The fellowship, he says, is crucial for his application to grad schools — another step toward fulfilling life goals he doesn't think would be possible if he has to begin assuming the burden of his student debt.