Kevin’s Story on the Student Debt Trap at Iona College

Photo Credit: Ben Sathre

I believe sharing our stories can create powerful change. Thank you, Kevin, for willingly sharing the difficulties you experienced as a result of taking on immense amounts of student debt and finding no suitable career after graduation:

I began taking classes at Iona College in September of 2002 and graduated in April of 2007.  During this four and a half year period, Iona provided a poor quality of education that did little to nothing in preparing me for a job upon graduation, while simultaneously setting me up for a lifetime of debt and hard, physical labor.  The money that I borrowed to attend Iona put me in a terrible financial situation that I am still struggling with to this day.  After receiving financial aid and scholarships, and working various jobs on and off campus, I still had to borrow approximately $40,000.00 to cover the cost of tuition.  What was especially difficult was that Iona set up its enrollment contract to prevent students from transferring or leaving. Students who enrolled for any given semester would also be forced to cover the costs of the next semester, even if they didn’t plan on attending Iona during the next semester.  So anyone who wanted to transfer to another school or take a break from college altogether would still be on the hook for the next semester’s costs, making it unreasonable and next to impossible to escape.

I earned A’s and B’s during my time at Iona and graduated with a 3.4 GPA.  Despite earning respectable grades, Iona did not provide any services one would expect from a college or university.  For example, the tutoring center did not have adequate personnel, so it was never open.  I expressed interest in doing an internship in each of my first three years, and my academic advisor and the person in charge of the internship program both told me that internships were reserved exclusively for seniors.  Imagine my surprise when I turned on the TV one night and my sophomore classmate was participating in Howard Stern’s Intern Beauty Contest.  I managed to land an internship during my senior year to work at the same radio station that served as the flagship location for Howard Stern’s radio show at the time. Two weeks before it was scheduled to begin, Stern left the station, and the station immediately cancelled all internships. I notified the school and they did nothing to help, despite the situation being completely out of my control. They told me to take a class at a local community college during the summer so I could graduate, which I did.  About three weeks later, the front page story of the Ionian (the student newspaper) ran a story about nine Iona students landing an internship at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Seven of the nine students were underclassmen. The application process for this internship was still open after my previous internship fell through. However, it was never mentioned to me and was never advertised on any flyers on campus.  

I began my job search a year in advance of graduating. I sent out resumes, made phone calls and attempted to schedule interviews. I was unable to find a position, and asked the school for help. In previous years, I had asked about job fairs, resume writing workshops, and for help with my resume and job search. No such help existed for me or for the majority of students. Iona College had no career center, no resume writing workshops, and no job fairs with Fortune 500 companies, despite being located less than 10 miles from New York City. When I was finally able to meet with a job counselor, she wasn’t able to answer any of my questions, and spent about 10 minutes with me building a profile on Monster.com. I accumulated $40,000.00 in debt, graduated with a 3.4 GPA and worked multiple jobs to attend a school in which the only service they provided was referring me to Monster.com.  

When I enrolled at Iona, I did so because of promises made by the school in its official publications when I was in high school. Iona once had a partnership with American Express in which students who did well enough in classes could intern at American Express and then work there upon graduation. This partnership and school to work program was prominently advertised in all of Iona’s literature, on the school website and even on a giant billboard right outside the entrance to the campus.  This relationship was advertised beginning in 2002, when I first enrolled, all the way up to 2007 when I graduated (including a billboard). The program had expired in 2001.  Iona falsely advertised a relationship with a major Fortune 500 company for at least five years. The reality is that Iona had no partnerships with any major companies while I was a student. Students were completely on their own in terms of finding work.  

I needed to pay bills and the best job I could find was in a warehouse, stacking and packing boxes and picking items, for 12 hours each day, with no air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter. I worked five and sometimes six days a week, for minimum wage with no benefits. The work was absolutely back breaking. Every part of my body was in constant pain, from head to toe. The hard labor was so exhausting and taxing that a girl I worked next to collapsed on the job and was taken away in an ambulance. Eventually I had to leave the job without anything else being lined up. I still have back pain and pain in my joints to this day.

Thankfully, I am in a much better position, but my fate could have been a lot worse. Students need to understand that colleges will lie to them, and that those lies carry lifetime consequences for the students. I would encourage any student wanting to attend college to go to a community college first and save some money working a part time job before transferring to a brand name school.  

No one should ever go through what Lauren and I went through. 

Another Open Letter to Augsburg University

Dear President Paul Pribbenow, Members of the Augsburg Leadership Board and Augsburg Athletic Directors,

Augsburg University has financially exploited thousands of students. I do not condone this. I ask that you immediately take down any honors, awards and/or publications including my name at Augsburg University. This includes my athlete biography online, any stories regarding my performance online or in print, any plaques or images, and any displayed school records. 

I expect written confirmation within ten days that you have ceased using my name and awards in any publications or on any displays or promotions at Augsburg University.

I am pursuing legal action to rectify the trauma you have caused and continue to cause for your financial gain. Not only have you misled and indebted young Americans and their families, you have taken advantage of some of the most vulnerable and desperate populations by creating programs for addicts and immigrants. And now, according to the Star Tribune, you are accepting grants for prisoners. 

I have personally spoken to teammates of mine from Augsburg University and other fellow graduates who have ended up homeless, addicted, re-addicted and/or underemployed. It is a misuse of taxpayer money to take grants and government funding while decreasing the standard of living for the people you purport to help.

Sincerely,

Lauren Rice

An Open Letter to Augsburg University

Dear President Paul Pribbenow,

Augsburg University has a hold on my transcript and degree. And all I can say now is, you can keep it.

You can keep my degree and hold my transcripts forever. I am not asking you to help me anymore, because you have not. I am asking you to change. Please do better for the innocent and unknowing students who attend your university.

I gave Augsburg University everything I had and you took it. And you continue to take from me. I can’t afford it. And it’s disturbing. Not only do I have an inordinate amount of student loan debt, the student account balance I owe you cannot be consolidated. As a result, it is now negatively affecting my credit and employability. An expensive education has left me with crippling debt, and meanwhile the university has not helped me secure a career that would allow me to begin to pay it back.

Look at your school track and field record board. I rewrote it. My name is on the mile through the 10k. I earned the Elite 89 award, which is granted to the athlete with the highest GPA at the NCAA tournament. I earned All-American honors multiple times and received your female athlete of the year award. I graduated Summa Cum Laude. I earned Departmental Honors in Communication Studies. I’m not sharing any of my honors to brag, I’m sharing them to demonstrate the dichotomy. If this happened to me, it is happening to anyone at your university. While I was earning Augsburg positive attention through academic and athletic achievements, I was going hungry. I didn’t know whether I would be able to finish my degree, because there was no funding for my books and other necessities. Not only was I training and competing, but I was working a work-study job for near-minimum wage. After I graduated, I could not find a job no matter what I tried. I asked you for help with job connections or internships, but you offered none. I finally entered a retail position in desperation. Pure hunger and fear. I spent time homeless, because I couldn’t secure employment.
I’m done asking you for help. I’m asking you to change.

I’m sharing my story with whomever will listen with the hope that no one else will have to endure the needless pain I suffered during school and after graduating. If people ask me what I think of Augsburg University, I tell them what I am stating in this letter. This is a problem and I cannot remain quiet while I watch innocent others get set up for the same suffering.
I know I am not alone. My fellow graduates tell me they went into debt rather than gaining opportunities.

Augsburg University has a serious problem if their highest achieving and most well respected students are underemployed.

This is my sincere plea that you stop misleading innocent people into believing their financial investment at your university will secure them a better financial future. I ask that you acknowledge what you can do personally to help these young, vulnerable students. And I ask that you do it.

Sincerely,

Lauren Rice