As Millennials begin embarking on higher education, we continue to be berated for our supposedly inherent entitlement and indulgent behaviors simply because we grew up in a time where we had the ability to quickly search and find cat photos at our own leisure.
It seems everyone wants to think that college students today go off to ritzy, over-priced schools and rack up debt in the form of loans they never intend to pay off; nevermind the fact that getting accepted into an incredibly competitive, high-profile school used to be something revered, but now is seen as an indulgence. Yes, I believe that with hard work and ambition, a degree is a degree and the institution on your diploma does not determine your outcome. Still, I wouldn't mind being at Yale right now.
Fearing the prospect of being in debt before I even have a job that pays above minimum wage, I chose to take time off and work two jobs to try and save some money. I am mostly met with "You're going to have so much more respect for yourself because you are paying for your own education" and "See? That's how we used to do things. Hard work and perseverance." While I appreciate the sentiment, it displays an unfortunate truth about older generation's impressions of college students.
While I do have a certain degree of pride for paying my college fees, I would much rather be living off of daddy's credit card than have a newfound sense of pride. You can't pay for text books with self-respect. Believe me, I've tried.
Furthermore, college tuition prices have increased 1,120 percent since 1978, according to Bloomberg.
So yes, back when our parents and grandparents were in school, hard work meant something different. My current definition of hard work includes an abrupt halt in my education to return home and work two jobs to try and scrounge up money before falling into tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
The majority of students at my first college did not fall into that category. Parking decks were littered with brand-new Jeeps, BMW's and even the occasional Audi. It was like a Grey Poupon commercial.
While I'm positive there was also a population less fortunate than I, the bulk of the school was incredibly privileged. Even with all of us in the same setting, the notion of "equal opportunity" does not exist. Certain students, myself included, juggled jobs in between 15 credit hours while others were able to drop $300 on a tutor. Some were able to afford taking on an unpaid internship, while others could not afford to not have a paying job.
With these few examples in mind, it's quite clear that the college education system has become increasingly unfair. When students go to apply for jobs, the ones who could afford a tutor and have internship experience are more likely to receive a job than the ones who worked entry-level minimum wage jobs. Now to be clear, there is no shame in working these types of jobs, but unfortunately the job market does not treat all work experiences equally-not to mention that even if I do get hired, I will make $0.75 on every dollar a man makes, so hey, I was screwed anyways.
So to review: We can't afford tuition without extreme financial stress and debt, competition between students is rigged and my only marketable skills are cashiering and forcing a smile.
I understand the importance of this time in my life and with every social media post about friends studying abroad and winning academic awards, it stings. I am someone who genuinely wants to be in college, but circumstances beyond my control have inhibited that. There are many others just like me, who have had to compromise their goals due to financial struggle.
Until college is no longer treated like a business in America, it will continue to create an unlevel playing field. Those who are genuinely enthused about learning deserve a chance at higher education.
While I have much appreciated this time I have taken off because I have been able to really understand what I want to study and where I wanted to transfer, the financial struggles have made this into a very stressful situation. If someone wishes to take time off, it should be for the purpose of self-discovery and recovery, not because they ran out of options.