Michael Vazquez, a Master’s student in theology at Duke University, is the first in his family to go to college. Like millions of students around the country, he believed that a graduate degree was the foundation on which he could build a better future. Unfortunately, Michael is now among hundreds of thousands of students for whom the cost of an education has become too much to bear.
According to Duke University’s website, the average cost per semester for a Master’s degree is about $30,000 — and that’s just tuition. While Michael has been working hard to get scholarships to cover some of his expenses, there’s still a wide gap between the financial assistance he can get and the reality of what it costs to complete a semester of graduate school. “Scholarships don’t cover the costs of food or housing or transportation or textbooks which can run up to a thousand dollars a semester at times,” Michael tells BET.
Realizing that the average salary one could expect to earn with a theology degree wouldn’t come close to covering the loans he has had to take out to earn the degree, Michael already feels hopeless. “I remember being told in high school. ‘As long as you get a bachelor’s degree, you’re set. You’re good,’” he says. But, it turns out, “We were sold a lie. Right?”
His feelings of deception are accurate. After graduation, those with theology degrees often become pastors, missionaries or chaplains. The range for these positions is from $52k to $73k. Only once well into a theological career, a Masters of Theology Degree can lead to a tenured professorship, which at its highest pays $95k. And of course, being tenured is no easy feat.
Michael’s mounting debt and expenses are taking a toll far beyond his dwindling bank balance. “I’ve seen my [grade point average] drop to 2.0 [from] as high as a 3.7,” he says. “And it’s entirely correlated, not to my ability to perform, academically, but entirely related to the stress of not being able to know where my next meal is coming from.”
Talking about his mounting debt leaves Michael relying on the only thing that his education has taught him. He says, “I’m hoping to pay off my loans in prayer.”
See more of Michael’s story by watching the video below.
Angela Rye’s BET NEWS primetime special, Young, Gifted & Broke: Our Student Loan Crisis, will air on BET on Sunday, September 15, 2019, at 8:00 p.m. ET.