College in America: a right or a luxury?



“Land of the free”, “home of the brave”, and ambition magnet. Isn’t that why people are willing to risk their lives crossing the Rio Grande? And why students everywhere dream of our ivy-covered, top-notch universities? You know, the ones that are financially inaccessible, even to Americans?

It all starts when you’re very young. Somehow you’re convinced that, once you get your college degree in this glorious nation, nothing could possibly go wrong after that.

Reality, on the other hand, hits you (and hits you hard) when you start realizing how pricy that ticket to success-land is.

With tuition rates ranging roughly from $5,000 to $40,000 a year, the USA is the most expensive country for a college student in the world. Ironically enough, according to the US Census Bureau, the average person between the ages of 18 and 24, of any race or sex, working a full time job in 2010, made only $23,060 a year. So you CAN go to a public, in-state, $15,000 College while working a full time job at 18 and support yourself. As long as you make sure you don’t spend more than $900 a month on food, rent, electricity and water. Don’t even think of getting a car.  Sounds doable, especially with today’s economy and housing rates, right?

But hey, if you ask mom and dad to pay, your odds are a little better: the US Census Bureau also found that in 2010, the average income of a family household, of any race, is $79,720 a year. That’s a FAMILY household, mom and dad combined are making money to support themselves, the house, the bills AND you and your two or three siblings. Sure, it’s easy to have the heart to ask them for 40 percent of their yearly income, right?

But come on! This is America, land of opportunities! Tuition costs a lot? You can TRY to get around it.

First off, you can get a scholarship. It’s easy. You either have to have the highest grades in the region (never mind that an A has become easier and easier to get these days) OR, if you’re not the brightest pea in your pod, fear not! You can STILL get a scholarship! I mean, of course, most of the time it will only pay off about 10 percent of what you need, and you also need to qualify for a long, never-ending list of qualifications: does your parent work for that big-shot company? Are you Slovak/Welsh/Episcopal/Unitarian Universalist/hemophiliac/Spina-Bifida or any other highly unlikely option like the above? Are you a member of that really fancy-sounding club you’ve never heard of? Have you demonstrated great leadership in defending a cause? Just qualify for all of these (and a few more) and you can be ALMOST sure you’ll get that scholarship! Never mind that we’re asking you, who is most likely 17 years old, to have achieved what many people don’t achieve until they are 40.

Okay, so scholarships are a long shot. What else is there?

Your safest bet is a FAFSA, need-based financial aid application. But hey, our economy is in GREAT shape these days, so you’ll definitely get all the money you need.

OR, and this, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the side of America that everyone around the world knows and loves: you can take out a student loan.

I mean, what’s the risk? You’re 18 years old, so you’ll be out of college and on your feet with a high-paying job in no time! Especially since unemployment is, officially, at 8.3 percent today. So don’t worry, you’ll have that loan, along with its modest interest rate, paid off real fast.

Our higher education system is broken.

Before offering the best education to the world, American Universities need to offer the best education to the nation, and the ENTIRE nation at that. After all, what good is having the highest ranking colleges worldwide, if most of the American population doesn’t even have the financial means to access to them?

Higher education should be a right, not a luxury.