In ten years, I have paid off 50% of my $90,000 student loan bill, the result of seven years of education at expensive private universities. I don't regret my two graduate degrees - I know they have opened doors for me professionally. What I do regret is that I insisted on attending private colleges. I believed they were better than public institutions of higher education.
I came by this misperception as a result of having grown up in a family that struggled financially. My wanting made me believe that studying in old buildings with ivy covered walls filled with expensive books and lab equipment would negate the fact that my family purchased clothes in thrift shops and bought groceries at the discount market in the "ghetto." And I believed earning a degree at a public university was like buying my sheepskin from K-Mart.
I am smart and earned scholarships and, due to my parents' career choices, was eligible for significant financial aid. But I still finished my last degree $90K in the hole.
My monthly loan payment of $550 is a monkey on my back. I feel like I can't do the work I want in this world because it doesn't pay enough. I am afraid to buy a home for fear it will put me into bankruptcy. I am hampered by this debt in a way that restrains me uncomfortably.
I have worked in public higher education, and in a K-12 system since finishing that second graduate degree. And I've learned that public education is no different from a private education, except it is subsidized by the government in an effort to make academia available to more people. I respect this, and am sorry that my youth was so clouded by my internalized classism that I could not see this.