My parents did not have the means to send me to college. I got into some great schools but couldn’t afford to go. I wound up in a small state commuter university, angry and bitter. I had to drop out multiple times. I moved to California and went to community colleges for a while. Ultimately I moved back to my home town and completed my degree at the same school where I began. It took 8 years. I worked as a waitress, a nanny, and a live-in maid while I was in school, in order to keep my schedule flexible. When I decided to go to graduate school I was married and my husband supported me. I still had to take on almost $100k in debt between the two degrees. It gave me all the opportunity I’ve had, but it has been expensive. I think I was least prepared for the political aspects of getting a PhD, and the fact that where the degree comes from is more important than your ability to contribute. My education was worth it to me, but it has come with disappointments too.
Your story is poignant but inspiring, Stacey. Congratulations on pushing through against the obstacles and the odds.
Higher education is increasingly important to career success, but it has become more difficult to obtain than any of us–including the providers–would like. Costs are racing ahead at a futuristic pace, while the delivery model continues to reflect many of the conditions of the past. There was a day when finishing in four years at the same institution was a reasonable hope, even when a student worked part-time to pay the bills. Now that’s difficult notwithstanding ready access to students loans.
We need to retain the best of the traditional model while making it more flexible, accessible, and outcome-oriented. New communication and learning technologies allow us to supplement, or, when necessary, replace the classroom learning experience with online instruction. That brings the cost of a degree down and makes it easier to complete. Likewise, we’re discovering ways to demonstrate learning and achievement, allowing graduates to trade on their merits, rather than relying so heavily on the reputation of an alma mater. This outcome-orientation will also facilitate the transference of credits among institutions. We have the power to confer the benefits of the education you worked so hard to achieve, at a lower cost in money and time.
For myself, I joined the U.S. Army. After three years I received G.I. Bill benefits and free tuition at any public university or community college in the state of Illinois. I had an ACT of 27 back in 1986, but my parents didn’t have alot of income, and my grades didn’t match my ACT. I had always worked while in high school, (3 jobs the summer before my senior year) and that contributed to my low gpa in high school.
After three years in the Army, the UofI asked me to retake the ACT or go into the College of Agriculture. Having no desire to do agriculture, I went to Illinois State University instead. I loved it there, and never considered transferring to anywhere else. Now my son graduates from high school this May, and he is planning on doing the Army thing as well. We could afford a community college for him, but the public four year is a little more than we can afford right now. Traditional financial aid is not an option unless we are willing to put him into substantial debt. Given the job prospects out there, loans seem counterproductive.
If your son does enlist, David, let him know of the services of Fidelis, a company that helps military personnel make a smooth transition to college. If he decides to go to college immediately, a community college can be a great place for a disciplined student to start. Finishing at a public four-year institution would perhaps require some debt, but the return on investment can be good, depending on a student’s choice of major, focus on career preparation, and commitment to graduating in a total of just eight semesters. Your son doesn’t have to be subject to the averages.
I remember clearly a conversation that my mom had with me at the start of my freshman year in high school. She had seen the way my grades were coming and pulled me aside and asked if I wanted to go to college. I responded in the affirmative (of course I did!). She then told me that we had zero funds to help me with that and told me that if I really wanted to do that I would have to get scholarships. She then committed me to never get below an A- again. I took that conversation very seriously and it was a challenge for me (a solid C student at the time) to keep the promise I made her, but I did keep it. I know have completed a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree still keeping that promise. I worked hard to gain scholarships (and keep them.)