If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Nicole Lancaster is a Teacher at The Leaguers, one of Newark’s largest community-based child care providers. She holds a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education from Montclair State University. Nicole is successful in her field, and earns a salary that is considered above average in the child care industry. But Nicole will tell you that the steep cost of earning her degree does not keep up with the cost of living considering the child care industry’s low wages.

“Many of my co-workers speak openly about their decision not to pursue their Master's degree because of the cost,” says Nicole. “There are so many bright, talented women and men who chose not to expand their knowledge and sharpen their skills doing the work that they love, because they know it comes with a lifetime of debt.”

“I cannot argue against that. In fact, I’m exhibit A. I earn almost $65,000 a year. My Master’s degree saddled me with $40,000 in debt. Both my husband and I work, but we are barely surviving from one paycheck to the next."

2.jpgNicole’s daughter, Brittainy, was considering a career in early childhood education.  During her first semester in a Master’s program, Brittainy questioned if the child care industry was the best choice.         

“I told her that she can not afford to have any doubts. A Master’s degree will trap her under a mountain of debt and if she continued with her degree and was not entirely certain that this was her calling, then she must drop out immediately. As a mother I do not want to see my child carrying the weight of that debt, trapped in a career she did not love."

Nicole is not alone. The student debt crisis is wrecking havoc for millions of families. Fueled by policy changes to the federal student loan program over the last few decades, for-profit universities and colleges now have access to $131 billion earmarked for the higher education of 12 million students. As a result, traditional community colleges and public universities have been forced to increase tuition dramatically to make up for public funding now bring funneled to private, for-profit schools.

Nicole has joined with other NJ Communities United members to protect our children from a lifetime of student debt. You can learn more about the campaign and support this work by visiting www.UnitedNJ.org/StudentDebt. Tell us how student debt is affecting your family by participating in our student debt survey or submitting your story to The #OurCommunities story telling project at www.UnitedNJ.org/TellYourStory.