Two Millennial Entrepreneurs on a Decade of Paying Student Loans & How They Plan to Help Others

Aishah, Lisa, and the current Millennial Visionaries featured on VisionPledge

By: Aishah Alassan and Lisa Fennell, co-founders of VisionPledge

Aishah

I owe five-figures in student loan debt. This December marks the 10-year anniversary of making student loan payments every month. With the exception of the year-and-a-half that I was laid off due to The Great Recession, I’ve made (mostly) consistent monthly student loan payments since graduating in 2005.

As of today, I can honestly say I’ve lived my entire adult life on earth paying for my college degree.

Quick background story. During the ‘70s, my parents immigrated from Ghana, West Africa to the U.S. to pursue the American dream in the land of opportunity. They raised my brothers and me in the Bronx, New York, instilling in us the values of a good education and hard work. They also heavily stressed the importance of earning a college degree and “getting a good job.”

One day in my senior year of high school, my mother, who was working two jobs at that time, frankly told me she would not be able to afford my college tuition the next year on her income. I was 17 and didn’t fully grasp the severity of her statement, but I soon would.

In my freshman year of college in Philadelphia, I received my first bill of tuition. After qualifying for financial aid and winning a partial grant, I still owed quite a bit in out-of-state tuition. I called my mother the same week I received the bill to tell her exactly how much she’d have to pay. My mother then reminded me that she did not have the money to pay my tuition. This time around, the reality of my circumstances suddenly hit me and the struggle to pay my tuition became entirely too real. Thus began my now adult-life-long journey into the throes of student loan debt.

I ultimately earned my degree in Journalism from Temple University and moved back home to New York. My first job post-college was at a small print magazine earning less than $35K a year. I worked at the publication for four years, before being laid off due to the recession. The magazines eventually folded. I later transitioned to the field of marketing, working at a non-profit arts organization. During this five-year time span, I was fortunate enough to be able to live rent-free with my family. (I couldn’t afford to pay New York city rent and make on-time student loan payments.)

To date, I’ve paid thousands of dollars towards my student loans, spending almost the equivalent of the amount it would take to launch your average start-up.

And by now, you know my story is not unique.

I’m a part of the generation some would say is most affected by student loan debt, the millennials. For many of us, our entire adult lives have been spent essentially paying down or paying off loans we took out to pay for a higher education. While some have been fortunate to earn decent enough salaries to pay off their student loans, others have not, opting instead to sacrifice the pursuit of their dreams and goals in order to pay down or pay off their debt.

We are living in a time where we have unprecedented access to the modern technology needed to change our world, but a good majority of those that have the vision needed to bring about this change is drowning in debt.

For the past seven years, I’ve talked with my peers, read our stories, and watched and listened to this generation of millennials — my generation — speak on student debt. Here’s a snapshot:

At 18 years old, I thought I could change the world. $110,000 in debt later….
Study Shows African-Americans Acquire The Most Student Loan Debt
The Fall of Young Entrepreneurship: Student Debt And The Millennial Entrepreneurship Paradox
The Ripple Effects of Rising Student Debt
If The New American Dream Is Entrepreneurship, Why Are So Many Black Millennials Missing Out?
What Will Fix the Economy? “Limiting the amount of student loans.” — Mark Cuban
Is College Even Still Worth It?

And . . .

#FeesMustFall Tuition Hike Protests in South Africa
Higher education has never been more important, but it’s also never been more expensive.” — President Obama
Hillary Clinton asks student loan borrowers to describe their thoughts on student loans using emojis
The #MillionStudentMarch calls for Cancellation of Student Debt and Tuition-Free College
Student Loan Debts Are The Albatross Around Young Entrepreneurs’ Necks
Boomerang Kids: 14 Portraits of College Grads Living At Home
My co-founder, Lisa Fennell’s six-figure student debt story below…

Lisa

With a B.A. from the University of Virginia and a J.D. from the American University, Washington College of Law, my educational credentials encompass a severe yet all too familiar dichotomy.

While access to top-tier education remains a vital component to succeeding in today’s workforce, the price of obtaining this education has become increasingly unsustainable for the millennial generation.

As a professional with a six-figure student loan debt, I sincerely believe receiving quality education at an unburdensome cost is achievable and I aim to provide solutions to individuals currently saddled with debt.

My story is short and simple. I was blessed with parents who believed deeply in the value of education, and bore the burden of my out-of-state college tuition costs. In undergrad, I studied government and politics which sparked my interest in law. When deciding to seek a career in the field, the cost-benefit analysis tilted in favor of obtaining my law degree despite the high cost of tuition.

This time, however, I would have to pay my own way for my education. Although I worked as a paralegal for approximately a year before attending law school, I was surprisingly unable to save the $150,000 it would take to cover my tuition. To achieve my goals, the only option at the time was to take out student loans. I knew if I worked hard enough, securing employment to offset my student loan debt would be achievable.

While I am proud of my legal accomplishments, the reality of the legal market as well as other major sectors has fallen far short from reasonable expectation. The daily grind and long nights were expected; the lack of significant headway in my student loan payments after five years as a practicing attorney was not.

Like many 2009 graduates, my job prospects were cut short by the economic turmoil of the time. During the summer of my second year of law school I secured an associate position with a top international firm in New York City and was designated to begin practicing after sitting for the bar exam. However, midway through my final year of school, I learned that the firm had filed for bankruptcy and would be closing its doors.

Consequently, upon graduation, the degree I worked so hard for came with no job and a six-figure bill with bleak means for repayment.

A few years ago I met Aishah through a mutual friend. One night we began talking about college, education, and the working world. The conversation inevitably veered towards the topic of student loan debt. She began telling me about an idea she had to tackle the student debt issue. I must have asked her at least twenty questions about the concept she was developing. Rather than being dismayed, she found my questions intriguing and asked me to join her as co-founder of VisionPledge. As members of quite possibly the most highly-educated generation, we possess the ability to address and remedy the issue of student loan debt before it bears catastrophic consequences. VisionPledge is our contribution to establishing a solution to the student debt crisis.

Aishah and Lisa

We are committed to helping our peers realize their dreams and aspirations. Our mission is to help all millennial entrepreneurs and visionaries pay off their student debt and achieve their vision via our non-profit, community-funding platform, VisionPledge, coming in 2016. We hope that by helping to remove the stumbling block of student loan debt, that millennials have a fair chance at going after their goals and achieving them.

We invite you to visit VisionPledge.org to join the conversation and read up on the inspiring stories of Millennial entrepreneurs and visionaries.

What are your thoughts on student loans?

Join us for our first #VentingwithVP chat on Twitter, Tuesday, December 15 at 9PM EST.