Not everyone can afford college. Some of the smartest and brightest students (in the US) still can’t get the scholarships they need to succeed. On the flip side, some of the dumbest people I know are attending college full-time, and are doing so through the good old “daddy” scholarship. They’ll get average scores in all their classes except for a few, party their way through extracurriculars and internships (because who needs a paying summer job?), and then get placed in jobs that won’t really benefit from them (but won’t really hurt from them, either). Of course, there will always be those people. We have known, and will know, about these “easy-breezy” kids until the end of time. Maybe you are one of these kids – and I’m jealous. I’m not mad at you. Heck, I’m happy for you! Live life to the fullest! But what I am mad at is the situation that students on the opposite end of the money spectrum find themselves locked in to.
Not everyone gets a free ride to college. Now, I’m not talking about kids who fail in high school because they can’t be bothered to care (I’ll get back to them later). I’m talking about the kids who make A’s and B’s in high school (they have few, if any, C’s) who get glossed over for scholarships, or those who are awarded smaller amounts of scholarship money because they weren’t offered the same opportunities in high school that other (usually kids from wealthier school districts) were given. You know (or perhaps you didn’t), I’m an undergraduate student myself. I had a 4.0 GPA in high school, was my graduating class’s STAR student, had all of the band and art awards, and I still had to make the decision to commute an hour from home to college, instead of getting to have a “college experience”, just to make ends meet.
Thankfully, my scholarships cover tuition and books, but I would be at least an extra $8,000 in debt per year if I had decided to live on campus. And that, my friends, was not how I wanted to start my life. No thank you. I’ll take all of my millennial handouts except for the student loan debt.
I count myself fortunate. There’s a public university 60 miles from my home town. It’s one that I can drive to, and it even offers majors in subjects that I am passionate about. But not everyone has that – and this is where college starts to show its teeth. Bright kids – smart kids – are choosing to forego university because it’s too expensive. A few thousand dollars in debt is manageable when you’re settled into a career, but it’s nearly impossible to stomach when you’re 18, especially when the amount you’re being shown reaches the $30,000 mark – per year. This sucks, because not everyone is blessed with daddy’s infinite bank account.
What happens, then, is that these students make one of two choices: A.) They forego college, and find work elsewhere, or, B.) They take the loans, and work twice as hard for the same degree that everyone else gets. Naturally, this isn’t fair. I’m not whining about this. I’m not crying about this. I’m stating this as a fact. What makes it less fair is that these students – the ones who take the loans – often end up working part-time. You know, working so they can live. But students who go to school full-time, and then who proceed to work part-time, are hard-pressed to find extracurriculars and opportunities that fit into their sporadic schedules. And all the while, the easy breezy kids are partying, networking, and having a great time. Our A-B student, on the other hand, is reading Gulliver’s Travels and writing research papers in that (frantic) time-slot between his 3 o’clock class and his Papa John’s shift from 5:00 to 10:30 (though he most likely won’t get to clock out until 11:00, if he’s lucky). Of course, one may suggest that our A-B student cuts down on his school hours; that he should take a lighter load. But, at 18 hours a semester, to complete a dual-major in English and Classics (Latin), with a minor in Medieval Studies – he’s barely squeaking out of the college on-time, without scheduling in any extra debt. And why so many courses, you ask? Well, it’s because he’s paying for it – so he may as well take full advantage of his college’s offerings while he can. Our A-B student loses out on friends. On parties. On opportunities. None of these things are essential, of course, but they are (funnily enough) expected of college students, regardless.
But, he does learn discipline, and he does learn the value of his own dollar, and he does begin a more adult conversation with Time. Through these lessons, our A-B student has mature advances that are above those of the easy breezy students.
But let’s not forget our choice-B students. Where do they go? Well, thanks to America’s consumer society, these students end up in sales positions. They are cashiers, baristas, and waiters. Car-washers and bank tellers. Day-care workers and gas-station cooks. They are the grease that smooths the turning wheels of modernity. Their jobs (some, at least) are essential to society. Deep down, though, I’ll always be aware of how many of them became State Farm, McDonalds, and Wal-Mart thralls. These are not even the thralls which the wandering Odin fathered.
College can act like a sorting cap that creates America’s lower, middle, and high classes, and it’s not fair. The cost of education alone should not dictate whether or not a kid slaves away at overpriced coffee shops or insurance call-desks. Rather, the outcome of an education should have the final say. Additionally, once you’ve made the decision to work instead of going to college, it’s so much harder to take the plunge and go back to college after you’ve already propped yourself up on your own two feet.
It’s not fair that wealthy students get a free ride through life. It’s not fair that some students have to study, work, and then never get the chance to play. It’s not fair that some students never even get to try their hands at college – that, after (at least) four long years of work, and four bathtubs full of student loan debts later, that they’ll never be handed those embossed sheets of paper that amount to… what, exactly? A title? A new sense of being? Knowledge would have been gained, of course, but must we really rely on college anymore to signify that for us?
Oh, but the kids who didn’t care in high school? The ones who didn’t take learning seriously? Yeah, I didn’t take them seriously, either.