On Campus: The graphic and Web designer

campus_jan_russell.jpgYou have to wonder if we’d be in this economic mess if Jan Russell still had one of her old jobs.

She worked in real estate. “I worked with some non-profits and did home-buyer education because for a while in the late ’90s, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and HUD were giving grants to first-time homebuyers if they underwent some education.”

She says foreclosure rates fell by 70 percent among those with homebuyer education. But the programs disappeared and we are where we are. Maybe there’s a connection; maybe not.

She met and married, and moved to Denver when her husband was transferred there. When he was laid off in Denver in 2006, they moved back to Minnesota. They were unable to sell their home in Denver. They still own it and rent it to pay most of the mortgage. Now that they’re back in Minnesota, they don’t yet have enough confidence to buy a home.

Her most recent job — working part-time creating marketing material for other real estate agents — disappeared last year. So she figured it was a good time to go back to Minneapolis Community and Technical College to finish the education she started in the early ’90s. She’s studying graphics and Web design, figuring that the “real estate world” is heading to the Web, she can work from home in her own business.

Her husband’s job (he’s back with the company that laid him off) is stable enough, she says, to allow her to be back at school. Her kids are small and there’s still time to save for college. And she and her husband don’t plan to retire for 20 years.

“I am really lucky. I know that I’m incredibly fortunate, but we’re trying to live smaller. I clip coupons. There’s a whole group of us who pass clothes from our kids. Those little things are the only things I can think of to do,” she said.

“We’re not people who live big anyway. We save for college. We’ve saved for retirement. We’re savers, which is not real popular,” she says. In Denver, her friends kept talking about buying bigger and bigger houses. “And I thought, ‘How are you going to pay for it?’”

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