Let me begin this post with telling you a story. It must’ve been about 26 years ago around October 1996 when I was a senior at Calhoun High School in my home town of Calhoun, Ga. I had finally rounded my selections to three or four colleges I was considering. I knew I needed copies of my transcipt to send with the applications, so I went to the school guidance counselor’s office.
Now, I preface this with telling you the counselor just didn’t like me. She didn’t like a lot of students. I didn’t know why it was. She was very ugly to a lot of students over the years and I was one of them. It was after school had let out and she was having a conversation with a younger teacher who was in her second year. I waited outside the door for them to finish and she noticed me and kind of begrudgedly asked me what I wanted. I told her I would need some copies of the transcripts to send to the colleges I was applying.
The next thing I know, she is screaming and yelling at me. “I can’t give you any copies! That’s not how this works!” The younger teacher stepped in and said, “They have to be official and sealed.” I could sense the counselor realized that she had shown her ass in front of someone who wasn’t on her side. Then, she backpedaled and told me that I would need to give her a list of the schools I was apply so she could send the transcripts there. That’s something that could be very simple.
Well, I was very upset. I wanted to go tell the principal, but unfortunately, we had a new prinicpal that year and he was a doormat. I’m feeling the counselor wanted the prinicipal job and had been turned down so this further explained her anger and frustration at people. Even though I told my mom about this, I think it didn’t register how ugly the counselor. Years later, I told her the story and she couldn’t believe it.
Now, I need to say that a couple of years earlier her daughter was involved in what some considered a cheating scandal. One of my brother’s friends had shown her a copy of a test from a teacher’s class to help her prepare for an upcoming final. He thought he was helping. Somehow this got back to the administration and the National Honor Society briefly removed him. But here’s the kicker. The counselor’s daughter wasn’t removed. Oh, it was a scandal. So, I think after some phone calls and other issues by the friend’s family, he was kept on the NHS. Last I heard, he went to go work for the CIA so I guess they’re glad they reconsidered.
It was typical of Calhoun that certain people were pets of the faculty and administration. I wasn’t. I don’t know why. I was involved in the NHS as well as the academic team, marching band, drama club, student journalism and helped out with Special Olympics. I took Honors Latin, Honors Chemistry (even though science was never my best subject), Honors Government and Honors Economics. I also took advanced algebra, trigonomety and AP English, which I passed the test and was able to college credit.
So, why didn’t they like me? What’s the answer to 99 of the 100 most asked questions? Money. I had taken both the SAT and ACT and performed well. I didn’t score at the highest on either but I didn’t study for them. I was already doing so much for my regular schooling, I didn’t have time to study. But I was still an active part of the school but my parents (and thus me, myself and I) didn’t have money and prestige as some other students. I still say there was also the stigmata that my parents were divorced. It was the 1990s but people in that town were very conservative.
Anyway, where I’m going with this is to tell you that I realized it was going to be harder for me to get scholarships if I had to work with the administration office. I did get the Georgia HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Grant that helped pay for my tuition. I didn’t get much in Pell Grants, which I think was due to my brother who was still in college at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. If memory serves, I got about $200-250 per term. I think the Band Boosters worked out a program where I received $100-150.
But still there were other things, such as room and board and meal plans that weren’t covered. I got some financial assistance from my parents. I even applied for a scholarship through a military program because my dad was in the Georgia National Guard that I didn’t get for my first year. However, I was able to get it for my second and third year and it was $1,000 each year.
Of course, that isn’t much when it comes to college. And even though tuition and fees were paid, room and board at Georgia Southern University wasn’t the best. I was fortunate to stay in some of the older dorms that had bigger rooms which was about 10 feet wide by 15 feet long. One place, Johnson Hall had rooms that couldn’t be wider than six or seven feet and had day beds where you were literally sleeping next to your roommate.
And living on campus isn’t as great as they make it sound. You’re in a building with 200-400 other people who don’t regularly shower or bathe. They also have no common decency. You order a pizza and 10 people want a slice and feel that you owe them a slice even though there’s only eight slices. People have little to no care of your personal property. You can come back from a class or part-time job to find people in your room eating your food and snacks. And you’re roommate is nowhere to be found.
One young woman I know had her clothes stolen from the laundry room. This was a common problem I later found out as some people actually said the other students had the nerve to wear the stolen clothes around the dorms. And even though there was a full-time custodian cleaning up, it was very unsanitary at times. People would get drunk and puke all over the bathroom walls, sink, toilets. No kidding, one of the dorms I stayed in, someone defecated in the shower, clogging a drain leading to a flooding.
So, I was fed up with that. Also, it was harder for me to get summer jobs back in Calhoun because people were looking for more than someone who could only work eight weeks. I got my own apartment. But the only way to do that was to get a student loan. I was working as a night supervisor for the Housing Department but it only paid $5.15 an hour, the minimum wage at the time. Even working two-three shifts a week, it wasn’t much when it was pay day. There was also a problem with my work at the student media where I wasn’t paid for that, for several weeks. It never made sense. I just think the person in charge of payroll for student media didn’t do the job properly. They got someone new the next semester.
I’m okay with human errors every now and again. But it was a human error that possibly kept me from extra financial aid. My third year in college, I happened to log on to the website to check my financial aid. Remember this was 2000, so I had to go to the computer lab at the library or in my dorm. I noticed they had me listed with a scholarship aid that I didn’t have. So, I went down to talk with my financial aid counselor as soon as I could and explained it to her. They took it off. But I feel that’s what kept me for getting the military scholarship my fourth and last year. Needless to say, my financial aid counselor was gone after my third year.
The student loan helped me living in an apartment, which gave me good sound of mine. I didn’t have to worry with fire alarms going off at 3 a.m. anymore. I could take a shower any damn time I wanted without having to wonder if there was going to be diarrhea all over the floor or if was a long line. I could use the bathroom in peace without a turd buglar. And I didn’t have to deal with the safety concerns that come with living in a dorm.
I’m going to be honest. Campus living, at least in my time, was very dangerous. Anyone could be in the building at anytime. And I do mean, anyone. People would just let anyone in the buildings if they were with someone else. They were a lot of people who didn’t even go to the college hanging around in the dorms. Part of my job was making sure that the doors were secure and that men aren’t walking unescorted on floors where women are staying. But that was until 4 a.m. Add to that being around people with poor hygiene, I got sick the most my first year in college than I did during four years of high school.
So, yeah, I took out a loan totalling over $7,000 for about three semester so I didn’t have to live in a center-black encased room or have to go beg the managers at Piggly Wiggly for a job bagging groceries and get run over by North Georgia rednecks while trying to get shopping carts. Aside from working in student media and the Housing Department, I also was able to get a 10-hour-a-week work study job in a career resources office briefly. I was making good grades, working and getting involved in other organizations.
I wasn’t a freeloader. I may have gone to a bar or nigthtclub once or twice a week, but what’s wrong with that. There seems to be a belief among conservatives, Christian right, and anyone who makes a lot of money that lower class people shouldn’t enjoy a good day or night off. I worked a night job so it was very hard of me to go to the clubs. Yet, I also had to deal with the people coming back from the parties and clubs.
I can tell you right now, there were so many conservative preppies and frat boys staggering back at 1:30 a.m. drunk as a skunk. And Georgia Southern had its collection of affluent students from the metro Atlanta area who thought their shit didn’t stink. So, I’m just wondering where this notion comes up that most of the people attending college are usually liberals taking majors in 17th century literature. Most people I knew majored in business, education or STEM-related courses. And even those in the mass communication were very broad in their views and opinions. We weren’t a much of radical leftists with long hair and Kurt Cobain in memoriam shirts.
This has been the stereotype the right-wing media and pundits have spun over the last 20-25 years of what college students are. As usual, the calls are coming from within the house because they have their own “heroes” to thank for our current situation with student loans. The increase in tuition and fees as well as high-interest loans comes from none other than what Nicolas Cage referred to as “that sumbitch Reagan.” When Ronald Reagan was governor of California in 1970, he shut down all University of California and Cal State campus due to the student protests against the Vietnam War. It’s no surprise Reagan, like a lot of conservative, hated the protests even though many of them included military vets themselves.
Roger Freeman, a key educational advisor for President Richard M. Nixon, no fan of protestors either, was working for Reagan’s re-election. Freeman said the country is “in danger of producing educated proletariat.” He told Reagan they “have to be selective of on who we allow to go through higher education.” They could have been speaking to the people in my home town. Colleges were also prohibited from keeping women and BIPOC from attending colleges thanks to the end of segregation.
But that didn’t mean they couldn’t make it harder. After Reagan was sworn as President in 1981, college tuition soared from what it was. For many decades, there really wasn’t a need for many high school graduates to go to college. They could join unions or work on vo-tech jobs. It was still prominent in many high schools to study these jobs. That is until Reagan pushed for the end of unions by encouraging states to go to right-to-work. This mean, employers could hire and fire whoever they wanted and they didn’t have give them a good living wage either.
By the 1990s, when Daddy Bush was packing up to leave The White House, many companies began to offer early retirement to many Boomers and Silent Generation people who had prospered in the post-World War II era with just a simple high school diploma and on-the-job training. WWII had hurt the manufacturing industry in Europe which meant many American factories got the work and there were many jobs to go around. That is until Europe got its footing in the 1980s and 1990s and companies didn’t want to fire employees because they were too old facing the lawsuits and backlash. But they offered them early retirment instead.
Yet, instead of offereing the same wages to younger people, they instead outsource these jobs overseas or they hired undocumented immigrants to pay for a fraction of the cost. But for a while in the later 1990s, it still looked like a prosperous time to get a job with just a bachelor’s degree because many companies were adding that as a requirement. The economy had rebounded from the Daddy Bush era.
Then, the 2000s happened and there was 9/11 followed by two wars, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan. Graduates like myself were entering the workforce in 2001-2002 only to find out we were making less than $20,000 a year. No kidding, when I left Americus in 2002, I was making $9.12 an hour. This was about $19,000 a year because I often had overtime which actually didn’t help until tax time when I could get some of it back. Two years later, a newspaper in McAlester, Okla., only offered me $9 an hour, which was less. And they weren’t open to negotiaions and rescinded the offer.
Minimum wage stayed $5.15 an hour from 1996 to 2007 while many people found themselves with college degrees and unable to make a living. Also, many Boomers weren’t so willing to take early retirement either, mainly because it was no longer being offered anymore. So, a lot of people in the 2000s just had to take whatever jobs they could find. And this is where the anger grew on the right that they had majored in studies but couldn’t get jobs. People wanted to get jobs in their fields of study, but couldn’t.
Add to that Little Bush had implemented No Child Left Behind, it became harder for many schools to push the vo-tech curriculum on students. Many people were believing their kids could go to a four-year college and schools encouraged that. Of course, the only way anyone could go to college this way was to take out student loans. And they just got higher as the cost of tuition rose in the 2000s and 2010s. They also made people think they needed to get a master’s degree and graduate school is more expensive.
On average, it costs about $16,000 after aid to go to Georgia Southern for one year. Before aid, it’s about $24,000 a year. So, that means, you could need $100,000 for a four-year education. And that’s just for people in-state. Also the likelihood, you’re going to get a job that pays half of that in your first few years is very slim.
And because some students couldn’t handle the workload that college required they dropped out. It can be very difficult if you’re not prepared for college. People who could’ve excelled at drafting, weilding or even diesel mechancis found themselves in debt. Vo-tech colleges were few and far between unless you lived in a big metropolitan area. It also had the stigmata of being a “trade school” which is very derogatory. Thankfully, in the last decade, there’s been a push to bring back vo-tech, now that NCLB is no longer a thing. My eldest step-grandson excelled at it, but he was fortunate enough to go to a school that had a program in place so he could take classes in high school and at Tulsa Tech.
This problem only got worse with Betsy DeVos and other conservatives who want education to only be available to the affluent. They’re wanting to take us back more than 100 years where young children went to work in the fields and factories. At the same time, they’re wanting to take public funds and give them to private Christian schools. This is so funny, because people are upset about the loan forgiveness program President Joe Biden recently announced but they’re okay with money going to unregulated and unsupervised Christian schools. This is also my same issue with charter schools which are sketchy. There’s something about attending school at a building that used to be a Blockbuster Video or Border’s that doesn’t look fundamen tal to me.
Considering that many Boomers in many states, such as my native Georgia, can opt out of paying school taxes, I’m wondering why they’re afraid Gen Xers, Millennials and even other Boomers getting $10,000-20,000 forgiveness. It’s always because people don’t like it when they see someone like a woman, a BIPOC or someone who may be an atheist/agnostic get some help.
At the same time, there whole religion is based around Biblical scripture that says debts should be forgiven. Yes, they love to teach about forgiveness. They teach people they should forgive their parents who were abusive or their uncles or grandfathers who sexually abused them. They should forgive the youth pastor who preyed on their daughters and granddaughters. They should forgive their own pastor who had an affair with a parrishioner forcing her (or him) to be ostracized.
But they just shouldn’t forgive a high-interest student loan.
I was lucky to get a job right after I graduated college. It wasn’t the best. But I might have not gotten it as my mother was very sick and closed to having kidney failure. It might have killed her. How would a 23-year-old be able to handle a job after that? People have a lot of problems that come up in their lives that can quickly affect their bank accounts. People are taking Ubers to the hospitals because an ambulance ride is too expensive.
The notion that it’s a bunch of freeloaders who took out student loans and didn’t repay them is a generalization that isn’t accurate. Many were paying off student loans but the interest was too high. Or they lost their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic which happened to my brother and other people. Or they were in a marriage in a no-fault state that later ended in divorce and they ended up having to pay for their ex’s business failures, which is what happened to my late girlfriend.
This country has many unfair and biased practices that only favor a few percentage of the privilege. We have repeatedly given money to banks that caused the 2007-2008 recession to keep them thriving. We gave money to the fucking airlines so many times they still overbook passengers and leave them stranded in airports. During the Trump Administration, we gave so many tax breaks to the rich, wealthy and elite while his family and close friends made a fortune off it.
Why the hell are some conservatives who are also living paycheck to paycheck themselves so angry that other people will get the help they need? Isn’t the Christian motto to help those around you especially if they are less fortunate? So, what if you paid off your student loans of $2,000 you took out in 1986? You probably had a better job and less problems.
Millennials and Gen Xers are having to live with their parents because a studio apartment costs $1,500 a month plus utilities. They’re not making the same amount of money you might. And all you can do is berate them for their unfortunate bad luck. The ironic part is that if some of these naysayers were ever hit with a hardship, they’d be the first people to be standing around with their hands out.
Forgiving students loans will actually help out the economy more. But personally, some people in this country are filled with such hatred and bitterness, as long as they’re getting a slightly bigger piece of the pie than everyone else, that’s all that matters. This is why some of them are called the “Me Generation.”
What do you think? Please comment.