Relax, I know the title wasn’t grammatically correct – I am an English Literature major after all…the problem is that while most people declare a major to get a degree the effect is that they are left majorly in debt. When I say majorly, I mean huge, gigantic, colossal…gargantuan debt. According to CNN.com: The amount of debt a student has upon graduation can vary dramatically depending on the school student’s attend. Of the 1,057 colleges in the study, average debt per graduate ranged from $3,000 to $55,250. At 114 colleges, graduates had average debt above $35,000, while 64 colleges said that more than 90% of seniors graduate with debt. Now before you say to me – just go to Community College or go to an affordable school, let me remind you that we spend our whole primary and secondary education being taught that if you get into the right school that is prestigious – you not only make a name for yourself, but you set yourself up to have a better job and make more money. This thought went through my head when I was accepted into The University of Michigan.
Money was not my primary objective in attending U of M. It was my dream school – it was my ultimate dream. Some people dream about hitting the lottery or being on television, but all I wanted was to be a part of the Maize and Blue. When I got my acceptance letter euphemism was all I knew. In my Advanced Placement History class we had a board in the back of the classroom where each of the students had a cut out star and they would right their name and the school they committed to – it was a big to-do…people ooe’d and awe’d and when I put Michigan next to my name I felt like I just won the Nobel Peace Prize. I was the only one on the board that had Michigan by their name. I remember a few people saying, “That is a really hard school to get into – congratulations!” The smile would not vanish from my face and it kept getting better when I got to Ann Arbor.
I remember when I got to campus I was overwhelmed. There were so many buildings, so many people, and the stadium! Ohhhh the stadium (still brings a tear to my eye). My first day on campus proved to slowly wipe the smile off of my face. I went into an office where I meant with a financial advisor. Now this wasn’t a banking financial advisor – it was more “you have x amount in scholarships, x amount in grants and now it’s time for you to sign your life away”. Of course that wasn’t what I was told – I was told that all I needed to do was sign my name to the dotted line and I could take out loans to pay for my education. The problem was I was like a rookie with no agent and no manager signing my first contract. I just kept asking “where do I sign” and so began my love affair with Sallie Mae and Direct Loans (now all I want is a divorce).
I left the office feeling fine – I mean I had adults with me; the advisor had no idea that I didn’t have the right counsel to help me plan. She was doing her job to no fault of her own. Then I went to start buying some of the books I needed, and there the smile was wiped clean. I remember coming to campus with cash in hand and thinking, “I just spent all that – on BOOKS?!?!!?” I just kept telling myself this is my dream school; it will lead to my dream job. I went to classes meeting new people, learning new things and every day I was more convinced that I made the right decision. The professors were so smart and engaging – I felt so fulfilled. Then the disappearing acts began. I would see someone in my class and a few weeks later they were gone…what happened? She dropped out…wait why? She couldn’t afford it.
Unfortunately this is the epidemic we face. You work hard in junior high and high school and you get to college only to realize I can’t afford my education. It’s embarrassing…even insulting at times. Those who ridicule or say that student’s are lazy need to halt right there…I held down three jobs while in school and many of my friends did the same, went to class, worked, did school work, slept and did it all again. They applied for grants, broke down to tears when they realized that what they want so bad (a solid education, from a reputable institution– admirable, right) is quickly slipping out of their grasp.
Why didn’t you prepare for this BEFORE you got to college….really? Secondary school is NOT how it was in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s…it’s even more competitive, more challenging… Be an athlete to get a scholarship or join clubs or volunteer to bolster your chances of getting accepted into college. Go to high school, practice for a sport, practice for a standardized test, finish that essay, go to your part time job, there is no time…before you know it you are getting your high school diploma and looking back after high school you may think – WHY didn’t anyone prepare me for this? The school may say it’s your parent’s job but your parent’s may be too busy working to provide to stop and walk you through this – or maybe they have never even been to college, or maybe they don’t understand HOW MUCH these schools are (until they get the financial breakdown). Maybe your parents do prep you – maybe they say…look you want to go to this school it’s going to cost you this much. Now must student’s going into college don’t stop and say – wait, if I leave school with $27,000 worth of debt (not including continual attainment of graduate school, etc.), then graduate and not find a job in my field – have to settle for an entry level position that barely pays the bills and forces me to a) live with my parents or b) live very lean it will be worth it because I had the college experience I always wanted! We aren’t going to do that at all…there needs to be something more – and dialogue isn’t going to cut it at this point.
I don’t care what side of the political coin you are on, if you don’t think college should be affordable in a day and age where competition in the private sector and otherwise is always increasing, then you my friend are nuts. I didn’t go to school for finance so I don’t know if increasing government Pell grants is the answer or lowering student loan interest rates. I do know in a day and age where student loan debt continues to rise, unemployment is still felt by many and the cost of living is not getting any cheaper that something needs to be done to allow young adults who want a quality education the ability to graduate without the cloud of debt over their head. I remember hearing “school debt is good debt”. Any debt is bad debt – point blank, period. It doesn’t take financial analyst who has a master’s from Harvard to tell me that, and it’s why many kids are saying, they will forgo school and just start right into the private sector, or take online courses at night. While I commend those who make their decision to live their lives whatever way will make them happy, I think it is unacceptable that students would feel backed into a corner and have no choice but to drop out or not even go to that dream school. We are America – the land of opportunity, right? It’s hard to feel like you are advancing when there is so much debt to overcome to get paper degree.