A financial aid counselor shares his experience with student debt

MADISON, Wis. – Emma Crawford flipped through an album while sipping her coffee on a Tuesday morning.

Everything was quiet in her Madison apartment except for the soft snoring of her two pugs sleeping on the couch. Soft jazz played in the background.

Crawford, 30, pointed to a photo of her and her fiancé. It’s one of his favorite photos in the album he made for her.

“That’s when he proposed,” she said with a smile.

The two bought a house last year and Crawford is saving up for their wedding later this year. She prioritized this during the student loan repayment break for the past two years.

“I also chose to start saving for retirement,” she said.

Crawford reflected on having a home, a fiancé and a career when she turned 30. She knows she is lucky, as many young adults have given up on those dreams because of the burden of student debt.

“We all buy houses later, we get married later,” she said. “Devin and I are a perfect example of that because we bought a house when we were 29.”

Crawford’s journey to happiness came with many obstacles. She comes from a low-income background and is a Pell Fellow. Her family relied on food stamps for some time and faced eviction.

“Coming from a low-income background, I never felt like I achieved financial security,” she said.

She looks at her own life and looks at the lives of those younger than her, navigating the same struggles as her and needing student loans to pay for her education.

“I worry about the future of millennials, my generation and those younger than me who have student debt,” she said.

Crawford nearly dropped out of college because of the student loans she would have to rack up. She is still repaying $36,000 in loans.

For this reason, she resonates with the students she teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Crawford is the Director of Financial Wellness and Financial Aid Counseling at the School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Everything we talk about, from student loan repayment to retirement savings to insurance, is very overwhelming and there’s not a lot of good information out there,” she said. declared.

Crawford teaches a course on financial literacy to fourth-year medical students. More than half of them nationwide will graduate with six-figure student loan debt. Nick Spoerk is one of them.

“It’s very anxiety-inducing to have to think about these things,” he said. “What am I going to do? How am I going to repay this and is it easy to put it off?”

Spoerk graduates with nearly $200,000 in student loans. He is finishing his residency in Brooklyn, which he knows will add to his debt. He said Emma’s advice was a relief.

“It’s very anxiety-inducing to go through the planning of these are the decisions I have to make and that’s when I have to make them,” he said.

A plan for financial freedom and an instructor who understands what his students are going through.

“I understand what it’s like to come from a low-income background and get a degree on student loans,” Crawford said. “Not knowing where to go or how to deal with these important financial situations, we juggle every day.”

A rewarding task Crawford says she is happy to undertake. She plans to become a Certified Financial Planner to better meet the needs of the students she works with.


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John A. Bogar