Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Sept. 21, 2021

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Singletary: Freshman, mom seek, receive help for college


“So, what had happened was …”

This phrase typically draws immediate laughter. That’s because those familiar with the refrain know the speaker is about to admit that something went wrong, and he or she bears some responsibility for it.

It’s what I thought of when readers asked me to weigh in on a trending story about an incoming freshman at Spelman College who came close to losing campus housing and not attending the school.

Here’s what happened.

The young woman, Nayya Martinique, drove with her family from Indianapolis to the Atlanta school for orientation. But when they got there, Martinique and her mother, TJai Downs, hadn’t realized that the federal loans Martinique received weren’t enough to cover all her expenses. To at least be able to move into her dorm, they needed to come up with $4,000.

Downs tried to get a federal Parent Plus loan, but she was denied because of an unpaid student loan of her own that she had dating back to 2008. A veteran, Downs said she had exhausted the financial aid available to her under the GI Bill. So she had taken out a student loan to help make it through a graduate program.

“I definitely take full responsibility,” Downs said. “I should have been far more aware of everything.”

The single mother, desperate to see her child attend Spelman, pleaded for assistance on her Facebook page. Mother and daughter also did an interview on a local Indianapolis TV station. And Downs, who is an educator, created a GoFundMe campaign.

With no scholarships or grants, Martinique and her mother are looking at a price tag of just over $179,000 for four years at this historically black college. ()

By midafternoon on Tuesday, the GoFundMe campaign alone had raised more than $7,600. One woman reached Downs through Facebook and then sent $4,000 directly to Spelman. Martinique was then cleared to move in.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this feel-good story.

I don’t fault the family for asking for help. Sometimes, you have not because you ask not. And the village came through.

But despite the generosity of strangers, I’ve seen this before: families who passionately believe that the money will come, and when it doesn’t, they are left to do some heavy borrowing.

This family’s saga also highlights the financial hardship of getting a college education, especially for women and particularly for African-American women.

Women hold almost two-thirds of the country’s $1.4 trillion student debt, according to a recent report from the American Association of University Women.

Black women graduate with the most college debt, ending up with an average of $30,400 in debt compared with $22,000 for white women and $19,500 for white men, the association said.

Downs and her daughter represent the many Americans who feel they have no choice but to take out student loans for a chance to advance economically.

My niece is a graduate of Spelman, so I know Martinique will get a quality education. I’m just concerned about what happens after this story stops trending.

Downs said she’s arranging to get current on her defaulted loan. Once she does that, she is willing to borrow as much as needed to keep her daughter at Spelman.

“I know God got me,” Downs said. “So, if I go into debt, … I just have so much faith that God is going to provide for us.”

Listening to this mother and her steadfast determination, I couldn’t help but think about what the Bible says about faithfulness: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

But I know the Bible also says that borrowing makes you a slave to the lender.