Today, approximately 45 million Americans are trapped under the weight of more than $1.6 trillion dollars of student debt, leading to fewer opportunities and even fewer financial successes. As part of Freedom Debt Relief’s commitment to empowering everyday Americans to move forward towards a better future, we started looking into the student debt crisis, its effect on Americans’ financial health and what we could do to help. After seeing the startling, and frankly depressing, result of student debt burdens, we launched two initiatives, a student loan forgiveness initiative for our clients and a $50,000 scholarship program, the winners of which I was excited to announce today.
Applicants were asked to write an essay describing how the cost of education and taking on student loan debt have influenced their attitudes and choices about their college education. We were proud to announce that Strider Schmitz of Arizona, Shalea Finley-Thompson of California and Caprice Beckham of South Carolina have been selected as our winners.
According to the latest data, nearly one third of all Americans’ student loan balance falls between $10,000 and $25,000. We therefore broke down the scholarship award money between Gold ($25,000), Silver ($15,000) and Bronze ($10,000). We hope that through this effort, these three students will be able to pursue their college educations, begin their careers and move toward financial freedom.
Strider Schmitz is one of five siblings and has been constantly focused on attending college. Working odd jobs and picking up late night shifts in restaurants to save for school became second nature to him. By his second year, he was working several jobs, taking over a full load of college credits and suffering because of it. This scholarship will help him finish school and reach his dream of working with Mercy Ships or Doctors Without Borders.
Since she was 12 years old, Shalea Finley-Thompson knew she wanted to spend her life working with children. In her attempt to reach her goal and, with some in her family having student loans well into their middle age, she saved money by attending a junior college before applying to a HBCU. Shalea hopes to attend Bowie State University and continue her quest to be a social worker or therapist.
Caprice Beckham attended New York University for three semesters. She loved being a college theater student but had to take on the immense burden of student loans. After deliberating with her friends and family, she pursued a transfer to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. After receiving this scholarship, Caprice hopes to graduate and eventually become a lawyer.
While we believe these scholarships will have a meaningful impact on the winners’ futures, we need to do more to help all Americans avoid drowning in student debt. I hope this initiative will help open the eyes of others to this paramount issue in our country.