I grew up in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. When you enter my neighborhood, you bear witness to extraordinary monuments and historic treasures. As you dig deeper, low-income areas and poor-performing school districts begin to cloud your vision of the nation's capital.
As I prepare to return to college for my senior year, I'm reminded of my friends from high school who never received the opportunity to attend college due to poverty. In my household the question was not if I was to attend college, rather, what college was I going to attend? Unfortunately, this was not case for many of my peers. The college application in it of itself is a barrier to receiving higher education. After all, if you or your parents are struggling to put food on the table how can you afford to apply or pay for an education?
After four years of college, I stand in reflection in deciding how I will use my education. I am reminded of the high school acquaintances I left behind, many of whom became teen parents or entered the prison system. Though I complain about late nights in the library or having to write difficult papers, I remember that I am one of the few that made it out of this cycle. Education is the key to achieving one's dreams, but at what price?
I have held the great fortune of funding my education through grants and scholarships. However, the cost of receiving a bachelor's degree shuts many out of upward socioeconomic mobility. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that the average cost of college tuition was $12,804 at public colleges and $32,184 at private institutions, in 2009. Sadly, the cost of receiving an education often means being straddled with thousands of dollars worth of debt. According to New York Federal Reserve, the average amount of student loan debt for those under the age of 30 has skyrocketed to $292 billion.
From childhood, I have been taught that in order for me to be somebody that I needed to go to college and get an education. What happens when you can't afford to be somebody? Education in the United States is often reserved solely for those that can afford it. As a bachelor's degree holder, I will enter an elite minority. Education reform is necessary to give all those who wish to receive an education the opportunity to. After all, America is the land of great opportunity and our education system should reflect equal opportunity not a broken system of elitism.
The in-affordability of college has not deterred many students who wish to utilize their education to repair this fractured system. Yoel Haile, a senior black studies/political science major at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is one of these students. Haile has overcome many obstacles to receive an education and he states, "I have had a job since my first year, I will have two jobs this upcoming year as a senior with an honors thesis to write. I also assist my family financially."
Haile's story is a tale of perseverance and representative of the reality of many students who struggle to fund their education. The tragic truth is that our children will face greater difficulties in receiving an education as the cost of college continues to rise. Coming from where I'm college is not a feasible reality but merely a dream. We make this dream a reality though education reform.
We must demand change for the sake of the next generation.