The Gustavian Weekly

Paying for a Chance at a Better Life | The Gustavian Weekly

By Zainab Ferrer - Opinion Columnist | December 11, 2015 | Opinion

A protest sign calling for action regarding student loans.

A protest sign calling for action regarding student loans.

Being fifty years old and still paying student loans seems to be the path our generation is predetermined to follow. Over the past four decades college tuition in the United States has skyrocketed like never before. As CNBC reports; the average cost of tuition and fees at a private, non-profit, four-year university in the 1970’s was $1,832 (in current dollars). Now we’re looking at a 1,500% increase, with tuition costing on average $31,231.

With the average American family at an income of $50,000 a year, how can all Americans have the same opportunity of obtaining a degree? The answer is, they don’t. Attending university, is seen in many countries as a right. In the United States it’s seen as a privilege.

We are brainwashed into thinking that if we go to college we will be guaranteed a better lifestyle, a better job, and more money. Although this may be true in some cases, there are way too many college graduates that end up working at supermarkets or gas-stations because there simply aren’t enough available jobs for them to put their degree into use.

Even so, many graduates that do find a good, stable job end up working in areas completely unrelated to their major. So why is the education system still determined to make us go through at least 4 years of college and become heavily in-debt with no guarantee of finding a job?

The answer draws back a parallel to the ideology of slavery a hundred years ago. Farm owners claimed that their workers were free to leave, as long as they paid off their debts. However, as slaves were forced to purchase expensive goods from the farm-owners, they became more and more in debt, permanently tying them to the farm.

Similarly, as students take out government loans, we are predisposed to start life at a negative balance, pushing us to work extremely hard, under the inevitable urge to pay them off. Although this may seem like a motivational reason to work hard for some people, the pressures that come along with loans, just as we are trying to get our foot in the door, is tremendous.

With the average American family at an income of $50,000 a year, how can  all Americans have the same opportunity of obtaining a degree? The answer is, they don’t.

I remember one of my high school teachers who had attended Michigan state (a public institution), admitting to having paid off her loans at the age of 36. We are thought to be free individuals living in a free country, but are we really? Or are we just workers at a farm, believing that we are better than everyone else because we chose to make the ‘smart’ investment of attending college?

It costs an average of $120,000 dollars to get a bachelors degree, not to mention room and board, but most higher-paying jobs such as being a doctor, or lawyer, require even more years of education meaning further investment. In Mexico a law degree can be obtained within 3-5 years, and in a country like Sweden it might take 4.5 years.

Yet in the United States, it takes twice as long. This makes sense, because the more one is required to study, the more in-debt one will become, so the more we will work, boosting the economy even more. This is why society is so focused on money, thinking that the richer you are, the happier you will be.

Nonetheless, studies have found that the average American is just as happy as a low-income family in Dheli. In a survey made within the last decade, one of the most popular bed-death regrets was, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”.

A college degree is indeed important, and should for sure be appreciated by those who have the chance to earn one. Nonetheless, the price we have to pay for the opportunity at a better life is shameful. It makes the wealthy able to become more educated, while the poor are left questioning whether it’s truly worth it.

With America’s values of equality and freedom, it would make sense for everyone to be as educated as possible, for knowledge is power. However, it seems like we can’t have too many powerful people.

Although it is not ideal, this is the way our society and education system is shaped today. So, I say, if we have to pay crazy amounts to go to university, then we should receive the whole package in order to be successful and achieve our goals.

Perhaps through a half-work-half-study program, we could get to know potential employers, and build a reputation in the working environment while we pursue our degree, that way getting our foot in the door before graduation. This idea is similar to internships, except that it would be through the school, and for an extended period of time, as an actual employee. As a form of networking, and gaining job experience, this would make us more marketable after graduation, potentially granting us a secure job.

Unfortunately, though, this system is yet to be put into practice. Being realistic in today’s world, with the average American earning a salary of $50,000, a year at Gustavus would mean all that money would not be enough to pay for tuition, room, and board, adding up to nearly $60,000.

Having just graduated, we will probably start from the bottom, making below-average wages, and becoming more, and more in debt as we try getting our lives on the road. Digging our hole deeper as we go, unless we actually “make it” in this competitive world, and are able to pay off all those loans, we are owners of nothing, becoming a cycle that seizes to end.

Therefore, if you have hundreds of dollars, get a degree. If you don’t, then don’t worry, debts will always be there for you.