The Classism of a College Education


By Sarah Govis

Ever since the eighth grade, I’ve been fed dreams of college. After visiting Niles West for shadow day, the college and career resource center counselor Daniel Gin began lecturing us about college. As a class, we made a list of all the reasons to go and not to go to college.

As a freshman, I worked extremely hard. I got mostly As, with a few Bs here and there. I was involved in several clubs and tried to be an integral part of Niles West’s society.

Because my sister and her friends were seniors when I was a freshman, I started looking at colleges along with them. I decided the place I wanted to be was New York University — it was a big school in the heart of a huge city. The cost of tuition and travelling didn’t even register to me until much later.

By sophomore year, I had the average ACT score of accepted students to NYU memorized. If you wanted to know its average GPA, I could tell you that. I knew its exact number of enrollment, as well as the names of all its schools. In short, if there was something you wanted to know NYU — I could tell you.

My parents knew exactly how much I wanted to go there. Whenever college came up as a topic of discussion, I told everyone that I wanted to go to NYU. All my family and friends knew it. It was the first college table I visited at college night and the first place I went to see when I went to New York.

But in the spring of sophomore year, my parents told me I wasn’t going to go to NYU. It was upwards of $65,000 per year. As a very solidly middle class family of four, it wasn’t within our means. So after several months, I gave up on my dream of NYU that had lasted nearly a year and a half.

And once I gave up on it, my parents introduced me to Bradley University, a charming school about two and a half hours out of Chicago in Peoria, Illinois. It was much smaller than NYU at just over 5,000 students. Although I wasn’t impressed immediately, I did more research on it. I realized it was actually a very good school. Peoria was a pretty populated city for being a college town, and it wasn’t gross. There was a Starbucks and Chipotle on campus. Its library offered free tutoring. Its professors made it very clear that they were there to help and support students, and would do most anything to ensure their success.

I visited in the winter of my junior year, and fell in love after the tour. It was where I wanted to be. If I couldn’t attend NYU, then Bradley was the next best thing. It was a place I could actually see myself, and I could see myself being happy there. I was so excited that my parents had given me a safe bet to apply to.

So in the spring of my junior year, everyone knew Bradley was my top choice. Much like NYU, everyone close to me knew how passionate I was about Bradley. Once again, I could rattle off its average ACT score, its average GPA, and its enrollment without a second thought.

But shortly thereafter, my parents made it clear to me that I was not going to be attending Bradley University unless I went to Oakton Community College for my first two years. Bradley was too expensive, with tuition over $41,000. Because they are a private university, they don’t provide many scholarships, and what they do provide isn’t much.

I was very angry — how could I not be? My top choice had been ripped from right under me perhaps even more harshly than NYU had. I always knew NYU was a long shot, but Bradley was supposed to be a safe bet for me. My parents fed me dreams of Bradley, braiding success stories of their friends who had attended Bradley like ribbons in my hair.

And I’m incredibly hurt. I think that anyone should be allowed to attend the college of their dreams if they work hard enough. I have worked to the best of my ability for the past three years. I deserve to attend Bradley, even if my parents can’t afford it.

I’m lucky that my family has enough money to allow me to visit schools; I know there are plenty of students whose families don’t have the extra money to drive several hours away and possibly spend a night in a hotel to see the school the next morning. I’m lucky that college is in the cards for me. But that’s the thing — college shouldn’t come down to luck. You shouldn’t be lucky enough to have money. As a human being, I think you are inherently deserving of a higher education.

“Being the second child, I feel like I have the added pressure to do well in school so that I can receive more scholarship money to ease the stress off my parents, who are already paying for my sister’s tuition,” senior Roshni Shah said. “I also believe that cost limits how far I am able to travel for schools. Because if a school is far, I have to mind airline costs and costs for moving furniture and things like that, which can get really expensive. Overall I feel the cost of schools just really limits my options, and I know it does for many others too, which is disappointing because you’re supposed to explore and really grow up during that time in your life. That can be hard if you’re just too close to home.”

When colleges are very expensive like that, when they don’t give out scholarships, they are saying, You are poor. They are saying, We don’t want you here. They are saying, class matters more than grades.

It is a blatant statement that if you do not have money, you don’t deserve to attend their school.

It’s a painful thing to hear. It hurts. I work very hard to get good grades. I am a member of Niles West’s golf team, I started a feminist club, I do community service with NARWHALS, I’m the news editor of NWN, and I work summers as a camp counselor. I am an active member of society; I have a pretty loaded resume for being a senior. I have done everything I needed to do and then some.

Of course I have other colleges I plan to apply to, although neither Bradley nor NYU are on the list anymore. I would say it’s unfair, but I think it’s something that is beyond the realm of fair and unfair. It’s classist. The reason I can’t attend the college of my choice is because of my economic status. It’s totally and entirely out of my control.

There are other students that acknowledge class shouldn’t be a reason to not be able to attend their dream school.

“Tuition fees shouldn’t effect where I go more than my personal choice. It seems like money is dragging me to go to an affordable college rather than me going to the college I want to go to,” senior William Lee said.

I think that it’s something you won’t entirely understand where I’m coming from unless your family is low or middle class — otherwise, it’s not something that has ever even crossed your mind. Your parents told you not to worry because they have thousands of dollars saved up to send you to the college of your dreams.

“I think that it’s unfair to force children to attend 12 years of school and expect them to attend more school after that and pay thousands of dollars,” senior Stephanie Dorado said. “Especially since we’re still kids and we’re not sure where we want to go with life. I think that’s why people are unhappy with their jobs, because they spend so much time and money on something they don’t really want to do, but they feel like it’s too late to do something else.”

You will never understand how much it hurts to know that no matter how hard I could have worked in high school — I still wouldn’t have been able to attend NYU or Bradley. There are no words to express the genuine anger and resentment I have for people who don’t have to worry about their higher education.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, either.

“My parents both work full time. They’ve been saving for my college tuition since I was little, but I’ll still have to take out thousands in loans if I want to go to a four year college,” senior Cinthya Etienne said. “Unless I get a scholarship, I’ll have to go to Oakton for two years to save money on tuition.”

Surely loans are a way to help you through school. Legally, individuals under 18 can only take out $5,000 in loans per year. Moreover, you have to add in interest. Because most people under 18 don’t have a credit score, interest rates are very high. By the time you finish your first four years of schooling, you are well over $20,000 in debt.

I know that maybe writing this column may seem a bit passive aggressive, like maybe I should be protesting or doing something more about it. I get it.

But I am doing something about it. I am expressing my anger and distaste in a public way; I am trying to get people to see this from my point of view. I am not going to apply to schools that are blatantly classist because it’s simply feeding them. Since I will be 18 during the 2016 election, I fully intend to vote for Bernie Sanders because he believes in free higher education at public universities.

And I encourage everyone who is in the process of applying to college or will apply to college in the next few years to do the same.

Get angry about it because it’s classist. Get angry because more than just being unfair. Get angry because your economic class isn’t your fault or your parents fault or anyone else’s. Get angry because you deserve to go to the college of your dreams, and money should never hold you back.