New Orleans rapper Dee-1, whose music video about repaying his student loans went viral this year, is partnering with consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to help students make smart financial decisions about college and their careers.
“We want to be innovative … and that’s why we brought in Dee-1,” PwC’s chief purpose officer Shannon Schuyler explained Wednesday at the Washington Ideas Forum, an event hosted by the Aspen Institute and Atlantic magazine. “When we saw him out there talking to students, we knew that being able to combine the authenticity and the message that he brings, with the trainings we provide students, could be a game changer.”
Dee-1 gained acclaim for the video for “Sallie Mae Back,” a song detailing his journey toward repaying his student loans. The rapper, whose given name is David Augustine Jr., graduated from Louisiana State University in 2009. After graduation, Dee-1 landed a job as a middle school math teacher in Baton Rouge, but left after two years to pursue his passion for music.
Leaving his job put a strain on Dee-1’s cash flow. He scraped by on his savings while making a name for himself as an artist. When RCA offered him a record deal in 2014, the rapper used the advance to close out the debt, after months of only being able to afford the minimum payments.
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On Wednesday, Dee-1 said he has heard from countless people on social media about their trials repaying student loans. He said the partnership with PwC made sense because he and the company had similar goals.
“When we finally connected, I was like: ‘Wait, you have a desire to educate people about financial literacy, specifically minorities. I have that same desire. Can we do this together?’ We can, and now we’re doing it,” Dee-1 said.
In recent weeks, the rapper has visited Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, and is heading out across the country to talk to other students about navigating higher-education costs and making sound financial decisions. He said he’s been advising students to know what they want out of college before entering, familiarize themselves with the financial resources available and have a plan for repaying debt if they borrow.
“I’m a young black man, with dreadlocks, from New Orleans, who is a rapper. When I walk into these classrooms with black and brown students and they look at me, they’re like, ‘Wait, that dude is one of us,’ before I even open my mouth,” he said. “My voice is authentic to them, my life experience is authentic to them, so when I hit them with the knowledge, the financial literacy piece, they’re all ears.”
The rapper, who still drives a 1998 Honda Accord, said he implores students to learn to live below their means. Though the windows get stuck and the locks don’t always work, Dee-1 said, owning the car outright means he saves hundreds of dollars on a car note, a lesson he imparts to students. Spending money wisely and living off less than you earn, he said, means you’ll always have a financial cushion. By the way, his next song is about not having a car note.
Dee-1 has been promoting PwC’s Earn Your Future curriculum, lessons on saving, investing, money management and career exploration launched in 2012. The consulting firm designed the lessons for educators to teach or share with students in kindergarten all the way to the 12th grade. To date, the program has reached 3.5 million students and educators, but at Wednesday’s forum, Schuyler said it was not enough.
“The world is changing, it’s evolving. Technology, even thinking of a classroom or a teacher, it means something different now than it did 10 or 15 years ago,” Schuyler said. “We needed to make sure that we’re keeping up with the times and where people are.”
A survey conducted by PwC found that 46 percent of teens have no clue how to create a budget, while another 50 percent are unsure of how to responsibly use credit cards. The survey also found that 67 percent of educators say they need more professional development for teaching financial education.
Consumer groups have pushed for more robust financial education in K-12 classrooms, arguing that students who are knowledgeable about money stand a better chance of making responsible decisions about selecting an affordable college and borrowing to cover costs.
Schuyler said PwC is trying to get ahead of the student debt issue with the financial literacy campaign, but is also addressing the debt burden its employees bear. This summer, PwC began helping nearly half of its 46,000 employees pay down their student loans. All of the firm’s associates and senior associates, people with up to six years’ experience, are eligible to receive as much as $1,200 a year for up to six years toward their education debt. PwC pays the money directly to its employees’ student loan servicer, the middlemen who collect payments.
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