Students resort to military to pay off debt
Senior Christopher Rogers chose Emerson to create a career out of journalism. Now, with over $100,000 in student debt, Rogers will join the military after graduation for its student loan forgiveness programs.
Each year, Rogers said he needs to take out roughly $20,000 to $30,000 to attend Emerson. Before he applied, he knew money could become an issue, but neither Rogers nor his mother would let that keep him from attending college.
“[My mom] has always been a positive influence in that way,” Rogers said. “She wasn’t going to let money be an issue about that. Money was an issue our whole lives.”
The Military College Loan Repayment Program, available through the Forever G.I. Bill, offers up to $65,000 in loan forgiveness. For students like Rogers, the program covers over half of their debt.
Rogers has not met with a recruiter, but he heavily researched his decision. He still has questions on how much money he can receive, his main reason for joining.
“It’s all about the money,” Rogers said. “I’m going to be blunt, because there’s no other reason—that’s why I’m going.”
As Rogers began researching his options, he said he discovered the position of an Army Public Affairs Officer that assists in directing videos for military networks, control media training, and develop communications plans.
Rogers currently works as a video production assistant for Harvard University Athletics and worked with Emerson Channel Sports as an executive producer and assistant director.
“I thought it would be a good idea for me to pay off my loans, but to also not miss a beat in what I’m trying to do in my career,” Rogers said. “It’s all on the same path I think. A couple years in the military to pay for my schooling is something I’d gladly trade off since I’m still accumulating skills I started gaining at Emerson.”
For Rogers, joining the military instead of the workforce could provide an entry-level journalism salary, without needing to pay for food, rent, and loans.
“If I were to go into the workforce, I’d be so stressed about the money,” Rogers said. “It would probably affect my work. It helps all parties by doing this. I’m going to be doing better work, and I’m going to be debt-free, or at least make a huge dent in it.”
According to Emerson’s website, annual tuition totals $46,016. Since 2015, tuition rose by $3,000. College Board reports tuition in the U.S. averages $32,410 for private institutions, and $23,890 for public universities. These tuition costs do not cover living expenses, food, textbooks, or other fees.
In a statement from President M. Lee Pelton in January, the college approved a 4.5 percent increase in tuition for 2018-2019. Hiring more professors, transforming the dining hall, and redoing the Colonial Theatre, among other expenses, contributed to the tuition increase,
Hallie Engel, who attended Emerson from 1999 to 2001, said she could not continue her education due to the high tuition price. Engel estimates tuition at the time fell around $25,000.
Prior to leaving Emerson, Engel’s father lost his job and her family filed for bankruptcy.
Emerson did not provide her with substantial financial aid, and when her loans added up to $55,000 only halfway into her schooling, she knew she could not continue.
“I was just thinking, ‘I can’t do this,’” Engel said. “It was really painful to leave. I was really into my major, I had done an internship, I had a lot of friends, and I really liked it. So leaving was so difficult. I cried and cried. It was really a tough decision.”
Engel said she found an army hotel in Germany where she could work without a visa. She lived there for under two years when she returned to Boston, jobless and living in a cheap apartment, to search for another opportunity. At 23, she moved to Qatar to work as a telephone operator on an air force base. Each year, Engel made $66,000 in a country that did not take taxes out of payment.
“So it was basically $66,000 a year in cash, in your pocket,” Engel said. “It wasn’t something crazy, but when you don’t pay taxes and rent, that’s a lot of money.”
Once she saved $15,000, she called the loan company immediately to make a large payment. She paid off her debt in two years.
She said she spent two years in a trailer in the middle of a desert answering phone calls and leaving her room before sunrise to begin 12-hour shifts.
“Working for the military, there’s always lots of official things going on,” Engel said. ”Lots of paperwork, lots of red tape, and it can be a very frustrating place to work.”
In 2007, Emerson’s tuition was $27,497, meaning it increased by 59.75 percent in 11 years.
Emerson states the college distributed $40.3 million in aid in 2017, 22.8 percent of total tuition. Students still need to find ways—often life-changing—to support their education as tuition steadily increases each year.
As someone who continued their education at Emerson while simultaneously throwing themselves into debt, Rogers questions some of the college’s decisions. With the purchase of 134-136 Boylston St. for $7 million in April, and the renovations to Little Building, many students wonder where their tuition goes.
“It’s almost like a private real estate company. That’s why our tuition is going up, and we still are not getting sufficient financial aid throughout the community,” Rogers said. “Student debt is a national crisis. It’s hindering people from excelling in their lives. I do this to relieve the stress I know would be in the future.”