In August 2017 I drove from Minnesota to Pennsylvania. The beautiful scenery distracted me from the life I was driving into – a life of student loans, debt, and worrying about how to make my education as useful and cost-efficient as possible. Having done a gap year I thought I was a little more ready to tackle the big question I had panicked about in high school but was now forced to act upon in college.
“What do you want to do or what are you going to do with your life?”
That was the question that caused most of my stress senior year and continues to haunt me. I even know some adults that have trouble answering this for themselves, not because they lack interests or passions in life, but because of the needs that must be met for their own health and safety. And for those adults, they often have to consider the impact of their choices on their families as well. The problem is that all too often the question “what do you want to do with your life,” isn’t really one we get to answer or discover for ourselves, because of the time it takes to find these answers and what that time costs in institutions of higher education.
As I went through orientation and started my classes, I began getting into the swing of things and found my own routine. I started thinking about pursuing a degree in Environmental Studies. What I didn’t know was that Pennsylvania has the highest rate of student debt in the country on average. To me, especially given my privilege and the opportunity to attend Dickinson – a private, liberal arts school – this hit me hard. Students around me, in my school, and in other schools are graduating with abnormally high debt. We all deserve the same future, not a future that is determined by how much money our parents have, what we look like, or how many awards we got in high school. We deserve a future that ensures we are the leaders and innovators the world needs in order to solve the problems that older generations have passed on to us.
As the job market evolves, higher education continues to be more and more of a necessity. The fact that Pennsylvania ranks third in national higher education cuts since 2008, doesn’t help. Being a senior in high school, my counselors were constantly emphasizing the fact that we would need a higher education degree to go into most of the professions we dreamed of.
In my home state of Minnesota, 300 students were left in the dust after a 32-year-old public music conservatory had to stop operations mid-year due to a lack of funding. Now, these students are looking for institutions that will accept them and their credit this late in the game to get the degrees they have been working hard for. We need systems of higher education that put students first, not ones that leave students to deal with consequences of a system they had no role in creating. We need systems that are accessible for all people, and that will be dependable in a world that is constantly changing to offer opportunities for the future for all people. We need College for All.
In PA and in Minnesota I have experienced unnaturally warm winters and summers that last abnormally late into the fall. Because I am passionate about climate issues I am acutely aware of how my actions could influence these seasonal cycles. In studying climate issues, I also am acutely aware of the time scientists predict we have left before our actions cause irreparable damage. It is quickly shrinking the longer we go about with business as usual. The solutions we need must be diverse, creative and innovative to tackle this problem in the short time we have left. The only way to get to these solutions is if we can have an equally diverse field of educated people coming to them from different fields with different passions.
Because of the big issues our country faces today – issues like climate change – we also need motivated and determined young people who can solve problems and innovate for much-needed solutions. We as young people also need tools that help us do that efficiently. I firmly believe that solutions exist to the problems our country faces; people who are able to find and follow their passions will create these solutions. If young people constantly must put money over finding their passions, we won’t get solutions. We will be stuck in a perpetual cycle of problems targeting and affecting the most vulnerable communities while the most privileged communities continue to experience the privilege they have always had. The effects of this system can be felt today in the way our decision-makers do not represent their people and the cycles of poverty that are perpetuated through inaccessible education systems.
College for All is about racial justice, economic justice, and equal opportunities for all people. College for All is about creating a better future for all people regardless of how many jobs they have, how old they are, or what language they grew up speaking, it’s about giving everyone the opportunity to create a future that is good for all of us. This future is one we desperately need.