Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Who's Supposed to Pay for That?

College, that is.  

I was part of an online discussion on this very topic and it made me think again about some things. Now, of course, our personal experience and understandings color everything we do, including the decisions we make for our children.  So it's no big surprise that there were many different opinions about college.

My college experience was pretty traumatizing. Despite the fact that I was a college admissions officer's dream and got into pretty much every school I applied to (these were mainly top-tier schools), I ended up "screwed" and had to attend a public college.  I didn't even get to leave home which was supremely important to me.  I won't go into details but basically, I could not afford to go to any other school without putting myself in serious debt.  Was it because my father refused to fill out my FAFSA?  Did I fill it out wrong?  Or was it that my parents made too much to qualify for much aid?  They certainly couldn't afford to pay for it out of pocket and because of their financial circumstances, couldn't or wouldn't take out loans for me.  I will never know exactly what happened but I ended up (miserably) in a combined BS/MD program that my mother discovered and made me apply to at a public college in the city.  I eventually dropped out of that program but graduated from that school.  I worked about 25-30 hours a week and full-time throughout the summer to support myself (was living rent-free at home but everything else I had to pay for).  I took 18+ credits a semester and graduated with honors on time despite having switched my major  after 4 semesters.  

I went through a whole lot and I learned a lot from that experience.  It was an experience that pretty much changed and defined my whole life.   It was a huge disappointment not to go.  And an even bigger disappointment not to leave home.   I can't make you know how important going to an Ivy League school was to me and how desperately I wanted to leave home.  But it was good for me in many intangible ways.  The most important things are how I changed in terms of my consciousness (about health, Africa, history, etc) but also about how I thought about school and the emphasis that is placed on it.  

I still believe going to school is important.    You could be a great success without ever having stepped foot in an institution of higher learning but it takes a special kind of person--someone who is entrepreneurial in spirit, charismatic, driven, undaunted by rejection/failure, outgoing, a people-person, who enjoys networking, hardworking/tenacious, ingenious and willing to hustle and hustle hard.  Those of us who are not all those things . . . I think it's good to have some kind of net.  I think that's a college degree.  Now, a college degree won't magically make all right with the world for you but it will open doors that would be solidly shut without them.  You will most likely make more money with a college degree than without one.  

What if one of the boys decides college is not for them?  What then?  They'd have to show me a concrete Plan B--something realistic and attainable, like a trade school.  I wouldn't force them to go to college  but they would know how I feel about it.  I'm not as hard up as I once was about being at the top of the class and going to top schools and all that and that is something that has changed significantly about me.  In fact, I wish someone had looked at my family's financial situation and told me to focus on public colleges from the very beginning. I'm almost sure that no matter what, I could have gotten a good deal going to a state school.  In fact, the University of Tennessee offered me a full scholarship which I hardly considered because it was 1) in Tennessee and 2) not Yale. While I don't believe in would haves and could haves, it's something that definitely shapes how I think about higher education.  I know our financial situation.  Many top-tier schools offer a free ride to students whose parents fit certain financial criteria.  If the boys are willing to work that much and are that good at school, this is an option for them.  If they turn out to be just "okay" students, the other option is public in-state college.  

We are saving a little bit ($50 a month) in a 529 for the boys.  Nothing to write home about.  I read that this could actually count against them come financial aid time.  Do we stop?  I don't think the money we could save would actually take them through all four years with inflation and the rising cost of college.  What I'm really hoping is that by the time they are college age, we have established multiple streams of income to help them through whatever choice they make (I hope it's college).  

Now, the biggest thing I've come to realize is that you cannot pin all your hopes on college.  You still need to possess some of those characteristics I mentioned above even if you go to college (although not to the same degree).  College will not magically make life wonderful and grand.  I was full of illusions back them.  I'm all about reality now.  

You know, when you're Black and have Black boys as children, certain things are obvious.  Like the world is just not nice to Black folks and especially not to Black men who are still viewed as a threat.  In any field we choose to enter, we can often expect to find discrimination.  So while I would support Z1 and Z2 as much as I could if they decided college was not for them, they have to know that even though the playing field is more level these days, it's not completely level.   They are not free to take years off to casually "find themselves".  They'll have to do that much the same way I did:  while working and going to school. Degrees help to level the field. And, quite honestly, give an individual holding them respect and credibility, like it or not.  

So while I can't commit to paying for the whole thing right now, that is what I'd like to do especially if my sons are realistic and understand that what I could most likely make happen is public state schools.  They will have to  work a little to to make that extra money for the funky fresh sneakers, the flyyest new gadgets they want and taking their girlfriends to.   But college?  Yeah, I think I'm supposed to pay for that. And I'm happy to if I can.  But not willing to break the bank or go into debt to do it.  I think that's fair.  
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
I hope you enjoy my musings that I share with you here on my blog. If you would like to use any written content on my blog, please ask and/or reference my blog correctly. Thank you.