National hip hop recording artist, motivational speaker, and former middle-school teacher Dee-1 joined forces with Sallie Mae to tell students at Hillcrest High School in Queens about the importance of college planning and financial literacy.
Dee-1 and representatives from Sallie Mae paid a visit to Hillcrest in September as part of the Bridging the Dream Tour, a nationwide journey to promote college applications and saving for higher education. Sallie Mae’s Bridging the Dream Scholarship Program was introduced as well.
The New Orleans native, born David Augustine 29 years ago, performed his hit song, “Sallie Mae Back” (which he wrote to celebrate paying off his student loans), as well as his newest single, “Intelligence,” for the nearly 2,000 high-school students. Sallie Mae employees also offered advice and resources to the teens.
Dee-1 started rapping as a student at Louisiana State University. During the mid-2000s, the artist released his first two mixtapes, then a third the year he graduated and began teaching mathematics at a middle school in Louisiana.
In 2009, he decided to stop teaching and follow his passion: music. That led to his self-released “David & Goliath” debut album. After several more mixtapes, his popularity grew big time. Fans couldn’t get enough of that down-to-earth underdog vibe, which made his music unique.
In addition to being a featured speaker for corporate events, church programs, youth groups, and industry events, the rapper has appeared on “The View,” ESPN, Fox News, and hundreds of local TV, radio, and digital outlets across the country.
His seven-state, 10-city tour with Sallie Mae began on Sept. 18 in California and concluded on Oct. 5 in Greenville, S.C. In total, Team Dee-1 reached more than 10,000 high school students with his positive message.
He spoke with NY Parenting readers about the tour and why it’s so important for young people to be financially literate and start college-planning early.
Tammy Scileppi: Please tell our readers why you became involved with the Bridging the Dream Tour.
Dee-1: I’ve spoken to high-school students all over the country, and they are hungry for information about going to college, but that’s not enough. We need to give them the tools and knowledge to create a game plan to pay for it, and ultimately, graduate. And that’s what this tour is all about. Together, with Sallie Mae, we are committed to empowering and inspiring students to develop that plan, better understand what’s out there to help pay for college, and how to borrow responsibly.
TS: What was your experience like?
Dee-1: Already, we’ve visited schools out west, in the south, and now, the northeast, and the energy, interaction, and reception have been amazing. We have met some incredible students with great potential. Most of them will be the first in their families to attend and graduate college. However, too many of them have concerns about how to pay for college, whether they’re ready, and general fears about the unknown.
It’s such a rewarding feeling to see and experience how my story and message resonates with so many of them. By the end of my show, not only are they inspired and motivated, they realize that college is within reach, and if Dee-1 can do it, so can they.
TS: What was your message?
Dee-1: Using my own story and experiences, I spoke about the importance of planning for college and managing finances responsibly. I also want these kids to understand it’s not just about going to college; it’s about graduating from college! During the tour, I talked about scholarships, which are available for just about any interest, and encouraged high-school counselors and community leaders to nominate deserving juniors or seniors for Sallie Mae’s $25,000 Bridging the Dream Scholarship.
The Bridging the Dream Scholarship program recognizes students who have excelled both inside and outside of the classroom, but whose financial circumstances or other obstacles in life may not allow them to pursue a college education. Recipients will be announced later this year.
TS: Describe the reaction at Hillcrest.
Dee-1: Hillcrest has raised the bar for other schools on this tour. The engagement, participation, and overall enthusiasm of the staff, faculty, and students was just incredible.
The students were hyped! They were a little shy at first, but they came around, and we had a good discussion about the importance of a college education.
TS: Talk about your collaboration with Sallie Mae.
Dee-1: It sounds like an unlikely partnership, but the reality is, we both share the same mission: inspiring our young people to reach college. We’ve visited high schools and youth groups across the country to promote college planning and financial literacy and we’ve awarded $190,000 in scholarships and student loan payments.
TS: Any advice for our parent readers?
Dee-1: My message is simple: Support and encourage your child’s desire to attend college by helping them to create a plan for saving and paying for college. That plan should include filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid , researching and applying for scholarships, and having a basic understanding of the costs associated with attending college.
Tammy Scileppi is a Queens-based writer, parent, and regular contributor to NY Parenting.
Preparing for college
Antoine Oakley, director of corporate communications at Sallie Mae, shared his advice about how parents and teens can prepare for college.
“We know that families who have a plan to pay for college are better prepared to meet the costs of college and ultimately, they save more and borrow less,” he said. “Sometimes, the hardest part is simply getting started. The good news is there are free resources out there, like Sallie Mae’s college-planning calculator, that can get you on the right track.”
In general, he said, Sallie Mae advises students and families to follow a three-step approach to paying for college:
Start with money you won’t have to pay back. Max out on money that doesn’t have to be paid back, like scholarships and grants. Apply for as many as possible and do it early. Check out free resources like Scholarship Search by Sallie Mae (https://www.salliemae.com/college-planning/tools/scholarship-search/), home to more than five million scholarships collectively offering more than $24 billion, as well as the College Planning Calculator (https://www.salliemae.com/college-planning/tools/college-planning-calculator/), which can help students and families create a customized plan.
Next, explore federal student loans. Get in line for the more than $120 billion the government sets aside in scholarships, grants, and federal student loans by completing the FAFSA.
Consider a responsible private student loan to fill the gap between your available resources and the cost of college. If you need to borrow for college, do it responsibly. Understand how much you need to fund your education, not a lifestyle. Look at the starting salary of whatever career you plan to pursue, and don’t let your debt exceed that amount.
“Financial literacy and college planning are keys to saving, planning, and paying for college, and parents can play an important role in their child’s future by discussing finances, setting expectations, and developing a comprehensive plan to help them figure out how to make the dream of a higher education a reality,” Oakley said.