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Should the Poor Pay Student Loan Debt?

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Do I pay student debt, or help my impoverished family? This is a dilemma being contemplated by some college graduates.

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor, not having enough to meet personal needs.

Let’s call her Jane.  

Jane is from an underprivileged family in rural western Jamaica, for context, her family lacks structurally secure housing, electricity and reliable access to tap water. Thus, to state that Jane’s family is impoverished is not in any way an exaggeration of the truth. Now, Jane has several younger siblings from ages 9 to 17. And being that her mother gave birth to her at the age of 17, Jane is the oldest child for her mother. Sadly, Jane’s paternal family belittled her. They thought themselves better than Jane’s maternal family and that Jane too would inevitably succumb to teenage pregnancy. Thinking that Jane would be a waste of their precious time and money, they were seldom interested in or involved in Jane’s development. However, from a young age, Jane understood the unfortunate circumstances surrounding her birth. Thus she was far more interested in higher education than sex. Jane maintained an ambitious path and gave school her best! While at high school, many underage girls from Jane’s community succumbed to teenage pregnancy. Despite this, Jane remained focus and excelled academically; copping numerous awards, scholarships and coveted titles during her tenure. It’s safe to say her dedication to education has paid off, as Jane recently obtained her bachelor’s degree from a prominent Jamaican university. Making Jane the first university graduate in her maternal family. A loud and powerful message to all who underestimated and belittled her.

Jane’s Persistence

She was only able to afford higher education through a combination of donations, grants, personal loans and student loans. Being that Jane is from a financially deprived family, financing university was extremely difficult for her. There were many times she had to ask people and organizations for financial assistance and most of her requests were denied. However, Jane is strong and though frequently rejected her spirit was never broken. Driven by her goal to rid her family of the heavy shackles of poverty once and for all Jane made solutions where others would have given up. Her dedication while pursuing her degree was exemplary. Jane sought and gained employment at the university. Furthermore, she worked during summer breaks on the US J1 programme. She earned enough money to reduce her student loan debt by over 50% all while financially supporting her family.

Jane’s Big Heart

Unfortunately, Jane’s mother, although still young, got very ill. Persons living in poor conditions for an extended period of time are extremely likely to develop a noncommunicable disease. Sadly, this was the case for janes mother.  In the past, Jane’s mother had to work extremely hard and she made numerous sacrifices for her children. Knowing this, instead of settling her student debt, Jane immediately covered her mother’s medical expenses. Furthermore, with Jane’s mother, the breadwinner of the household, sick and unable to work, Jane had no option but to take her place. Jane ensured that her family ate and attended school. It is important to note that Jane’s mother took no pleasure in having to depend squarely on her eldest daughter, but had no other alternatives. With the additional responsibility of her family, Jane faced dangerously high levels of stress while attending university. Consequently, Jane struggled to maintain good grades in some of her classes. Nonetheless, she always thought of a way to get right back on her feet and met course requirements. Despite all her challenges Jane still managed to graduate university with honours.

Jane’s Dilemma 

Jane’s student loan debt is now exceeding 1.2 million dollars. This forces her to prioritize jobs with an early start date and high compensation over one that’s aligned to her career goal. Equipped with a bachelor’s degree Jane could strategically search for her dream job, but that will take some time, and her family needs her help now. Pressured by her circumstances, she takes the first job opportunity she finds, even though it is not one she enjoys. To make matters worse, she is still not earning enough from her current job to make loan payments, pay living expenses, assist her ill mother, and younger siblings. As Jane’s income gradually increases, so will her student debt because of its annual compound interest. Eventually, Jane might be faced with a very difficult decision. To either, assist her ill mother, and siblings and possibly render herself insolvent, or pay off her debt and deny her underprivileged family much-needed assistance. However, Jane remains very confident that she will eventually figure out a way to do both. She reminded me that she solved a seemingly impossible problem before, therefore, by gods grace, she will do it again!

Jane’s message

Jane is an exceptional young woman; she obtained a bachelor’s degree under very difficult circumstances. She remained focused and performed well academically. I am inspired by Jane’s big heart and strong spirit. She is a kind and loving daughter who aims to free her family from the old rusty shackles of poverty once and for all. Jane’s story shows that despite how accomplished and composed others may seem, we all have our unique challenges. Therefore, we must remain strong and overcome them, even the ones that seem impossible. Furthermore, one should never make the mistake of underestimating a young woman simply because of her family or home community.

To Pay or Not to Pay

It is my opinion that students like Jane from underprivileged families should not be required to pay their student loan debt. I believe it should be easier for these students to present their case to Jamaica’s Student Loan Bureau and have their debt acquitted. Jane has family dependents who are impoverished and severely ill. It is simply not fair for an educated Jamaican to be burdened by student debt to such an extent. If Jane’s debt was to be acquitted, she would be able to gradually and sustainably invest the 1.2 million dollars owed towards building her family’s combined wealth, thus, lifting them out of poverty.

At the very least, I think Jamaica’s Student Loan Bureau SLB should offer a zero-interest option to students from extremely poor families. Such an option would allow students to pursue their education and pay off their debt over a longer period. The National Housing Trust NHT has a zero-interest option for very low-income earners. Therefore, I do believe that such an option would be feasible by the SLB. Any country that aims to develop its economy sustainably, needs to create enough feasible ways for low-income families to access higher education. The suggestions above will not automatically solve such a complex problem, but it definitely would be a step in the right direction.

Start a Discussion

please answer the following questions in the comments below

  • What are your thoughts on the matter?
  • What do you think the SLB should do to help students like Jane?


The SLB should offer to impoverish students zero-interest, long-term loans because….

I think the SLB is already doing enough for poor students because…

note: this article is a depiction of a real person’s true circumstances. Therefore, a fictitious name was used and some personal details were withheld to ensure that said person’s identity remains confidential. 

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Shane BrownAnna Recent comment authors
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First I’d like to say that Jane’s story is a tragic reality that many persons are faced with.
However, I don’t think it’s feasible for a company that loans capital to have offers with 0% interest rates. How would that make returns on their investment? Instead, I think a lower interest rate for a person with unique living conditions could be a better option.

Great article nonetheless