As a little kid, when I went out with my mom and we passed someone collecting garbage, mopping a floor, or working the drive through at a fast food restaurant she would gesture towards them and say something like, “and that’s why you go to university”. While I’ve grown to realize that devaluing workers and using them as an example of why you need college is unfair, I get the gist of what my mother meant. I’m sure many other kids received similar lectures from their parents about the necessity of attending college or university. And it turns out our parents were right.
In the past, people had options. It’s not uncommon for our grandparents and even our parents to have walked out of high school straight to a well-paying job. You didn’t have to go to university to be society’s definition of successful. Today, however, attaining a “good” career is unheard of without some sort of college degree or diploma. We associate college and university with skill and intelligence. In North American culture, people who further their education are just better. And those who don’t will end up as janitors and burger flippers — our parents’ nightmare.
And I’m not saying that furthering your education through college is the wrong choice. It just seems as though it’s the only choice. The only form of education that’s genuinely recognized in the “real world” comes in the form of a piece of paper saying that you passed all your courses. Sometimes I feel like I learn more through teaching myself than I do from listening to professors’ drab, but that’s irrelevant to employers because there’s no certificate to prove it. And not everyone is equipped for college or university. There are countless ways to learn and nobody learns in identical ways, yet we’re told that college is the best.
I’m not convinced it is. It’s not uncommon to hear of or see kids in university cracking under the pressure. It’s not a surprise that intense workloads and exams can lead to kids breaking down and feeling totally unequipped to handle what they’re being faced with. I’ve watched kids take ADHD medication like candy because they can’t imagine how they’d make it through finals any other way. It’s a sobering thought; university students, supposedly society’s best and brightest, don’t feel as though they’re capable of surviving academically. At times, it seems like pushing students to their very limits is the goal, rather than helping them expand their horizons. Is this really the environment we want to be educated in?
The biggest stress factor in college, for many kids, is money. University costs are reaching astronomical levels in North America. Factoring in the costs of tuition, living expenses and text books, it’s not unusual for a student in Canada to spend over $10,000 per year. It’s probably instinctive for most people to assume that increasing costs for university are a result of inflation. Inflation, in short, is the word used to describe the increase in prices as time progresses and the decrease in money’s purchasing value. For example, if I’m paying $2.50 for a bottle of Diet Coke today, I would have paid $1.55 in 1990.
If universities followed the general rate of inflation then the average tuition for a Canadian university student, which is about $7,000 today, would have been about $4,500 in 1990. But it wasn’t. In 1990, tuition cost $1,500. The rate for college has gone up about three times as much annually as the general rate of inflation. And because inflation isn’t increasing this quickly anywhere else, university is becoming a huge financial burden on students and their families. People aren’t getting richer, but school continues to get more expensive. Why is this?
It’s because universities don’t give a rat’s ass about inflation. I hate to say it, but it seems like they don’t care about very much at all. As much as I’d like to believe they have their students’ best interests in mind, financially, they most definitely do not. With prices for tuition increasing every year it seems like they’re trying to make it as difficult as possible for kids to obtain the college education they so desperately need. It seems backwards when you think about it – you need to go to college to make money in the future, but you’re going to have to put all the money you make in the future towards paying off your college debts. Canadian students come out of university with an average debt of $37,000. $37,000. The prospect of finishing school, getting a job and actually being an adult is scary enough without having to worry about a crippling debt that came from a matter you don’t really even have a say in.
And though it’s pretty obvious students are struggling, universities don’t want to help. I’ll give you a personal example.
I’m from a lower middle class, single income family like many other young people who are currently attending university or hope to in the future. As much as my mother would like to, she can’t afford to pay for my entire education. And a part time job can only get me so far. So I took out loans and worked as much as I could. In addition, my university gave me an academic entrance scholarship of $3,000 which reduced my tuition to about $4,000. In order to maintain this scholarship, I needed to achieve an average of A- or higher in university (In Canada, an A- is an 80%).
On top of my school workload, I worked a part time job during my first year. The transition from high school to living alone and having a heavy workload is difficult in itself, and having to work adds another element of stress. I did the best I could though, and felt that my work ethic was the best it had ever been. In the end, my final grades were A-, A-, A-, A, B+, and B. Four A’s and two B’s. Even though I had more high marks than low ones, my average still worked out to be a B+ and I lost my scholarship. I don’t feel like I could possibly have done any better, and it still wasn’t good enough. University comes with pressure to not just be good, but perfect just so you can afford to continue.
College institutions aren’t hesitant to ask for even more money, either. A few months ago, my school sent out an email suggesting every student pay $30 more per year so we can have properly functioning internet. I’m not kidding.
Unfortunately, universities know they can charge outrageous amounts of money because they can smell our desperation. They know we need them. They know we have no future without them. And since we rely on them, we pay whatever they want us to.
Something needs to be done. Students need to take a stand. Instead of sheepishly handing over all the money we have and sickening amounts of money we don’t have, we need to realize we are being taken advantage of. Because they know what we fear the most: Becoming those janitors, fast food workers and garbage people our parents warned us about.