Higher Education and Major Life Choices

My socioeconomic status growing up implicated that higher education was not a major priority, nor was it something attainable to the likes of our bank accounts… I only have one person in my maternal family (in which I  was raised) that has a Bachelors degree. When I decided to pursue my degree, solely for personal conviction, I did not realize that I was doing this SOLELY FOR PERSONAL CONVICTION. I was misled, I felt. I think that I believed that after growing up pretty damned poor that a college degree meant that I had “made it”. It mean that I had done something, my mother and many other of my familial constituents had not been afforded the opportunity.

I will admit it. I came out of my expensive Private College education (as a working adult) with a pretty smug and snooty response. “Well, I’ve given myself a leg up. Sorry about the rest of your luck!” I am allowed to admit that. I am human. I was convincing myself of a reality that I hoped for in a world that was completely foreign to me. I imagined that for the first time in my life, I would be “privileged” and that I would have an advantage upon other competitors for employment and careers than others competing for the same positions.

Boy, how wrong I was.

I received tuition remission to the tune of 18 credit hours per year, however, that would take me roughly 8 and a half years to finish… so I financed the extra 12 credit hours and went full time. FULL TIME. Thirty to 36 credit hours a year. Balls to the wall, for lack of a better term. I believed in myself and I made it happen – cum laude, Dean’s list, all of it.

Here I am. After four years of desperately hard work, conviction, honors graduation… and nothing has changed.

What does this mean about our American education system? We have convinced MILLIONS of people to get a degree when the only thing that has afforded them anything better is hard core experience. The piece of paper did not make any difference for them, nor did it for me. Even after tuition remission, I owe Sallie Mae $44,000… Oh, wait, I’m sorry — Navient. Pells, scholarships, etc, all deducted already — this is what is left, and I will add $18,000 more for my Masters program that begins in the Fall.

I get to carry this into my marriage and force Drew and I to handle it.

I get to try to grin and bare it when my kids asks me what the purpose of college is (mostly girl child since she is getting closer to the age where she is curious about it) and I have to make sure I fake it enough to show her that college is a non “option” in our home… its a definitive. She’s going. End of story. Drew and I know (in conjunction with other parental units) the Boy and Girl child, and any subsequent children, are GOING to college. Period. However, with Girl Child, I have to fake it. I worked SO hard… so very very hard to have a piece of paper… so that I could ‘check the box’ on applications- combined with my experience… and it has not turned out exactly as I had hoped.

I work more than I believed that I would. I am more stressed, and more underpaid, than I believed I would be. My immune system, as it turns out, is compromised in the face of stress and lack of sleep. How did I get here? How did this happen? I remember ghosts of boyfriends past who were “so stressed” and friends whose jobs “Sucked the life out of them” — and I remember saying… “Then change things, you have a choice, do something else! Be happy!”… Like I had any clue what I was talking about. Everything was “well enough” for me when I was a single parent, making it, caring for only myself and two children – now we are a family. I have more than just the kids to worry about 50% of the time in my home. I have a future to provide, help to provide, for several of us. I have convinced myself that there has to be something better for those of us who work so hard educationally to set ourselves apart from other applicants.

I recall interviews past where they asked some of the most ridiculous questions I have ever been asked. “What makes you want this job? What makes you want this job, in this department?” What I wanted to say, initially, was “I am VERY good at my job, and at my skill set, I think you should be asking yourself what qualities about ME you would desire.” I did not.

I sat there, in my fancy suit that I saved money to curate and put together. Thinking. I wanted to say “Um, money? Why is money not an acceptable answer? Why do I have to have some sort of life long dedication to YOUR department? Your cause? Your project? Your research? — Why can’t it be that my motivation is money, and then I will show you my dedication all around, and have you be pleased with that?” Staff positions in higher education are not about “dedication to a department”, you know why? Because we don’t gain the dedication to those departments until we are in them, entrenched in relationships with the people in these departments. It is your responsibility to nurture an environment that we love — not ask us in an interview why WE want to be with YOU… The relationship is beautifully co-dependent and for staff positions, it starts with money, or a desire to shift away from one type of administrative work. We don’t have a desperate connection to your department. We build it.

So, where does that mean we go from here as an American middle class with thousands in student loan that will have us in a noose for three to four decades to come, unlikely to make enough enough to pay them off in a more reasonable amount of time? What does that mean for those of us who were tricked into believing that higher education would give us opportunities, )outside of higher education that provides one with certifications to actually practice in a career -MDs, Vets, DPTs, Clinicians, pharmacists, etc), where does that leave the rest of us?

Waiting? Desperate? …. or in my case furthering my debt to income ratio with additional education solely so that I can have more letters behind my name? Where do those of us in the middle class, who were raised poor, get left when we have pursued the education that society has told us that we must in order to be ‘wealthy’, ‘fulfilled’, ‘happy, ‘productive’ members of society?

They are about to raise the minimum wage for people who flip burgers. Sorry, Folks. If they are raising the minimum wage for you, then they need to raise the median income for those us who STARTED at the minimum wage and worked hard and sought higher education in multiple fashions. Period.

I should admit that we are not financially destitute, that we do not worry about where our next meal is coming from, and we enjoy some of the finer things in life — but this is personal, this is about me, my hard work and my feeling of simply being a warm body. Make no mistake, I have worked very hard. I deserve to receive credit from myself for this.

Are they lying to all of us? Convincing us to willingly shuffle into educational debt because of something they convinced us that we will have, but ultimately never possess – so that we are ETERNALLY in debt to the government trying to obtain something impossible?

To put it in perspective, when I was full-force heading into the LSAT and law school, it never ever dawned on me that without $180k in student loan debt, that I make what an entry-level attorney does right now?… How insane is that? I changed my mind, with that reason in rear view mirror. How crazy skewed is that?!

Where do we continue to go from here? Accept that we are chained to student loans that we will never use and continue to provide high interest loans to the government for that same education that we won’t use?

Saturday night pondering while struggling to reply to my Admissions Counselor on how to attack my schedule for the Fall term… while conceding and admitting I just don’t have the energy to worry about this right now. We are getting married in 14 days and all I can think about is what I have committed my soon-to-be husband to. Copious amounts of student loan debt that he will be largely responsible for paying off. Why?


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