DES MOINES, Iowa -- Nicole VanZandt of Des Moines dreamed of working with troubled children in the juvenile justice system to change young lives. But her own life was changed when she quickly racked up $80,000 in college debt without even getting her degree.
She admits, at the time she thought the loans were easy money. "I was young and it was a situation where I had been in juvie for five years, five six years of my life. And I was like whoah, I get this money for school and get myself on my feet."
Now, VanZandt is 30-years-old and drowning in debt. She doesn't have the money to finish her degree and she can barely pay her bills. And VanZandt isn't alone. The average student in the class of 2015 leaves college with $35,000 in debt.
Monday at North High School, President Obama pitched a one-stop website for potential students to check out colleges, and he continues to pitch taxpayer funded two-year college.
Calvin Johannsen is a film-maker in West Des Moines. He just finished a documentary on college debt called "Broke, Busted and Disgusted." He says the president's idea for taxpayer funded two-year college is a good start. "It won't necessarily completely solve the problem but I think it could help as long as we could get over the stigma of what community college is and get people to accept it and look at it as a viable career path."
But ultimately, Johannsen says, students have to stop borrowing so much for college; especially for degrees that won't lead to higher paying jobs. "Maybe we shouldn't be giving so much money, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars to individuals to just get this education if it's not going to serve them in the long run."
VanZandt wishes she had learned more about college debt before going to college. With this debt, she's put off having a family and doubts she'll ever own a home or retire. Worst of all, her dream of helping children, she says, is gone.
"I never thought I would go to college. The most frustrating thing in the world is to get through all of that and not have what you want at the end of the day," VanZandt said. "All I want to do is help people and I can't."