A “very fine” education…debt-free

Samara Freemark
Public Insight Network
Mary Alice and Elmer Harvey, on their wedding day. (Photo provided by Mary Alice Harvey

Mary Alice and Elmer Harvey, on their wedding day. (Photo shared by Mary Alice Harvey)

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks asking people over age 40 about their experiences with student loan debt — an issue more typically associated with younger adults. I’ve heard from dozens of people who are struggling with massive loan burdens even as they look ahead to retirement. I’ll share some of their stories next week.

But in the meantime, meet Mary Alice Harvey. Mary Alice wrote to tell me that she didn’t have any student loan debt – in fact, had never had any debt. She entered Iowa State College in 1944, when tuition was $25 per quarter (about $300 in today’s dollars), and she paid that off by working a 40-cents-an-hour job  with the National Youth Administration.

To put that in perspective, the College Board estimated that in 2011-12, out-of-state tuition at public colleges was an average $20,770; at private non-profit schools, tuition averaged $28,500.

Still, Mary Alice remembers her education as “very fine.”

Listen to her story below. And take a moment to tell me about your experience with student loan debt: Did you think you’d pay off your student loan debt before age 40?


Samara Freemark Reporter
Public Insight Network

Reporter/producer Samara Freemark joined the Public Insight Network after four years at Radio Diaries in New York City, where she spent her time helping ordinary people tell their extraordinary stories for NPR. In the process, she developed an unshakeable belief in the beauty and power of personal narrative.

Before Radio Diaries Samara worked as an environmental reporter, a posting that took her to sinking islands, Superfund sites, and literal snakepits – Burmese pythons, to be exact. She also churned out copy and tape in the newsroom of WUOM Ann Arbor. Before settling on a career in radio she tried out policy research, community organizing, and urban planning before deciding she preferred soundwaves to spreadsheets.