by Tiffany McKay

Michaelson Phaeton’s mother emigrated from Haiti to the U.S., received citizenship, then took out loans to finance her nursing degree at Atlantic Union College and two of her other children’s education. Before Phaeton started college, his father passed away. His mother became the primary source of income. When he applied for loans, the dramatic change in the economic climate made it impossible for his mother to co-sign loans for him and his brother. Ultimately, Phaeton had to take a break from Northeastern University and his brother took out loans independently, accumulating a six-figure debt.

According to a Gallup Poll study [ ], Black students like the Phaetons are more likely to take out student loans than those of other races. From 2000-2014, 50 percent of black college graduates left college with more than $25,000 in student loan debt. The poll revealed that only 34 percent of Caucasian graduates departed college with loans over $25,000.

These findings help explain the economic gap between the races: The median wealth of African-American households dropped an alarming 11 percent in the years 2010-2013, forcing black students to struggle even more to receive a college education.

U.S. News and World Report calls CUNY one of the most affordable schools in the country, but our students still struggle to pay for school. Anderson Serrant, a 2012 City College graduate, worked while in school and still needed to take out loans. “My first few years [of college], I paid out of pockets,” Serrant explained. “When my brother went to college, I had to work and go to school. My last two years I used loans. I don’t have a huge amount to pay back but it’s still significant.”

Sometimes, the inability to pay for college forces students to dismiss the idea completely. Steven Joseph, 23, never finished, opting for other means to make money because of his financial ordeal. After completing four semesters of college at Oakwood University, Joseph accrued about $25,000 in loans.

“While I was in school, my family had to pay Sallie Mae which was extremely difficult to do,” Joseph explained. In 2014, Joseph completed his Patient Care Technician certification. “I decided it would be best for me to move back home and change my career path.”

Some students place dreams above financial obstacles and dive deep into a sea of college debt. Barack and Michelle Obama did.

President Obama and his wife finished paying off their college loans only 10 years ago. Combined, he and the First Lady racked up $120,000 in loan debt, as reported by the Chicago Sun Times. Obama told University of Buffalo students about his college debt in his speech about the College Affordability plan.

“We know a little bit about trying to pay back student loans too because we didn’t come from a wealthy family, so we each graduated from college and law school with a mountain of debt,” he explained. “And even though we got good jobs, we barely finished paying it off just before I was elected to the U.S. Senate, right? I mean, I was in my 40s when we finished paying off our debt.”

In January 2015, during his State Of The Union Address, Obama pitched the idea making community colleges free. With college costs exponentially increasing, eliminating the cost of receiving a two year degree makes attending college way more accessible to the middle class.

If passed, this plan would create more opportunities for those who can’t afford college and could possibly bring America one step closer to closing the financial gap.