Roderick Smith: Stocking Shelves with a Degree

While stocking shelves on a recent morning shift at Target, Roderick Smith pulled out his white iPhone and began to apply for jobs on Craigslist.

Smith, 22, from Detroit, has searched for a job that would complement his public relations degree from Florida A&M and would help him pay of his student loans. His resume and cover letter are stored on his phone in case any job opportunity comes up.

“When I graduated FAMU three months ago I would have never pictured myself here,” Smith said. “This isn’t the life I envisioned.”

Smith is among the Class of 2012 graduates who are working hourly wage jobs while trying to pay off student loan debt. A report by Rutgers University has found that those hourly-rate workers who had student loan debt when they graduated made less than those who did not owe money. Smith’s debt is higher because he paid out-of-state tuition. Out-of-state students pay about three times more per-credit-hour than in-state students.

Smith, who graduated in April, lives in a one-bedroom apartment with no roommates. He makes $9.70 an hour and feels that the struggle to live now is the same as it was in college.

“All I do is work and apply for jobs. When I’m not doing that I’m sleeping,” Smith said. “It’s very exhausting.”

With the cost of education rising more quickly than the average family income, many college students decided to take on student loans to pay for their education. Families who sent their children to college during the recession are said to have taken out larger amounts of student loans.

“For the next 10 to 15 years, the Class of 2012 will likely earn less than they would have if they had graduated when job opportunities were plentiful,” according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

Smith is not the only public relations graduate working an hourly wage job to pay off out-of-state student debt.

Alaura Carter, 22, from Washington, D.C., moved home after graduation to live with her grandparents while working at Costco. She earns $12 an hour.
When Carter gets off work she is forced to deal with the responsibilities of living with her family.

“I come home and cook, run errands for my grandparents, do laundry, drive my little sisters around and apply for jobs then, I go to sleep,” Carter said.

Being an out-of-state student, Carter accumulated a lot of debt. She was not sure of the exact number but she said her last semester fees were so horrible she will probably not be able to pay it for a while.

“I owe FAMU so much money I cannot get my degree so they will have my degree until I can afford to pay off this debt,” said Carter.

With the fall approaching, both Smith and Carter say they are determined to enter a new phase of life where the horrors of paying off student debt will not consume their lives.

“I refuse to let this be my future,” said Smith. “If I have to go graduate school just to get a higher salary then that’s what I will do.”