I spoke with an educator working for a non-profit organization that teaches computer science in underserved communities. Her passion for making education accessible is evident in her line of work but also comes from the challenges she faced getting her own undergraduate degree.
“I would have benefitted taking a gap year and working for a year. I ended up taking a leave of absence from college my sophomore year because my freshman year I was so unhappy and I was in danger of dropping out. I knew I had to get out of here and not be in school for a while and figure myself out or else I’m wasting my money taking these classes that my brain and my heart aren’t in it.”
Taking a gap year between high school and college is common in many other countries and is seen as a way for students to learn how to be independent and shoulder adult responsibilities.
Her brother also had a tough time making the transition from high school straight to college. He ended up dropping out at the beginning of his sophomore year and working for years, and just recently went back to school.
“He’s smart when he knows why he’s there when he’s in the right headspace he can ace all his classes like he is now. I think he was just not emotionally ready for that next step. Now he’s at a community college trying to finish as many classes as he can there, they’re transferable classes and it’s cheaper and he’s working while he does it. It’s hard for a returning adult student, you have responsibilities that an 18-year old doesn’t have, like a mortgage and a tenant, thank God he doesn’t have a family yet.”
Both of them attended schools that are well ranked but also have reputations for being ‘party schools’. Many students are attracted to the social aspects of college life more than the academic ones, creating a campus culture that’s detrimental to the entire student body.
At that age students don’t have the maturity to navigate these social pressures as well as make financial decisions around higher education that can impact the rest of your life.
“When I was 17 and applying for colleges and looking at financial aid packages, I couldn’t fathom those kinds of numbers. I just signed. I was like ok I’m going to college and I’ll do whatever it takes to get there. But most 17-year-olds don’t know enough about money and how the world works to really understand the choice that they’re making.”
What is the outlook on her students being able to afford college?
“For top students going to top private schools, I’m not worried about them. The Ivies, the Claremont colleges, their financial aid is pretty darned good. Basically your financial need will be met in full and you will not have to take out loans.
We’ve been defunding public universities a lot, especially after the last financial crisis. They never had that much financial aid to begin with because they are cheaper, and with federal and state aid drying up they need to pass those costs onto students. And most students aren’t going to the top private schools.
Education is a civic good that we should be investing in collectively through government and we’re doing a good job of that. Programs like my organization are in no way a replacement for that dwindling investment in real public education.”