She stayed home to raise her kids, eventually remarrying Larry, who returned to school himself in 1978 after retiring from the U.S. Navy.
"I said, 'I don't want to work at Target the rest of my life,' and he said if something happened to him that he wanted me to have something to rely on," she said. She's taken out $7,000 student loans to help pay down her tuition costs of about $30,000.
Curtis said the traditional model of employment -- go to school, get a lifetime career in one place, and then retire -- has been changed by the behavior of companies and the economy. The scarce number of high-paying jobs in Decatur makes it likely she'll move after she completes her education, she said.
"Nobody stays in the same place anymore," Curtis said. "Here in Decatur, you work in a factory or you get minimum wage jobs. People can't afford to support their family on minimum wage jobs."
Larry moved back to Decatur after Hurricane Katrina wiped out his home and his livelihood in Louisiana. He'd become a registered nurse himself after he left the Navy, paying $300 per semester tuition at Arkansas State University and learning from instructors who were mostly younger than he was.
His retirement benefits will mean his wife can afford to repay large amounts quickly, he said, but that isn't an option for everybody.
In fact, he said there are few practical options for those who can't find a job or can't make enough money to repay the loans. "The only way you can get out of (them) is to die," Curtis said.
Richland advises its students through the loan process, said spokeswoman Lisa Gregory.
"While we continually strive to appropriately advise students about the loan repayment obligations through the financial aid and degree completion process, it is the unfortunate reality that sometimes students are not successful," Gregory said. "For those many students who are successful in the completion process, the area economy may not have job opportunities available to them. At times, default is a result."
In addition to your school's financial aid office, information about or relief from student debt is available at:
-- Project on Student Debt (loan limits): http://projectonstudentdebt.org/files/pub/2012-13_loan_terms.pdf
-- National Consumer Law Center: www.studentloanborrowerassistance.org/
-- U.S. Department of Education (loans and Pell grants): http://www2.ed.gov/fund/grants-college.html
-- American Student Assistance (nonprofit): http://www.asa.org/basics/default.aspx
-- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/students/repay/
-- National Student Loan Database System: http://www.nslds.ed.gov/nslds_SA/
Following are the student loan default rates for loans that came due between Oct. 1, 2008, and Sept. 30, 2009, and went into default before Sept. 30, 2011:
University of Illinois-Urbana 2.5%
Illinois Wesleyan University 2.5%
Bradley University 2.8%
Illinois State University 3%
University of Illinois-Chicago 4.2%
Eastern Illinois University 4.8%
Southern Illinois -- Edwardsville 6.6%
Northern Illinois University 7.4%
Southern Illinois-Carbondale 8.1%
University of Illinois-Springfield 8.5%
Western Illinois University 10.7%
Illinois Valley Community College 13.2%
Chicago State University 15.2%
Heartland Community College 16.6%
Parkland College 18.1%
Illinois Central College 24.7%
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education
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