By Mickey Fontaine
College is a big decision, and it can have big consequences. Although it can create new opportunities, it can also close off doors later in life. It is very expensive, and debt can have a huge impact on your long-term financial stability, making it very hard to change the course of your educational or professional life.
Colleges also encourage students to specialize in economically beneficial career paths, which can force people into avenues that are not best for them.
Students are expected to choose immediately and confidently the path of their entire life, which they may not be ready for. Our institutions do not accommodate doubt or exploration.
Is college meant to hammer students into model citizens – or give them space to create their own paths?
I felt that this question couldn’t just be answered with statistics; it needs a human element. Data can give a good overview, but it doesn’t give the full story. To understand the restraining nature of college, I decided to try and give a voice to the numbers that so often take center stage in this debate.
First, I reached out to someone at the beginning of their college journey. Emmanuel grew up poor, making it difficult for him to access opportunities others take for granted.
“I grew up in Colorado Springs, which I feel was foundational in how I look at the world. It was this little corner of the world that no one cared about, and I felt like there was so much I couldn’t do.”
Describing his early life, Emmanuel said he was constrained by his upbringing. His poverty made it difficult for him to achieve his full potential, but it also gave him a unique perspective and the motivation to create change in his community. He described the impact of his early life by saying:
“I think that growing up in such an unimportant place allowed me to be very conscious of my community. Whatever I end up doing, I want it to generate some kind of pride in the area; I want to do something greater than myself.”
After 11 years in the Colorado area, he moved to Vashon Island, but still felt constrained. He described Vashon in a negative light, saying that it was unwilling to recognize its problems or change them.
“The problems on Vashon keep getting worse and worse, and everybody just wants to ignore it.”
Unsatisfied with the inaction he perceived, he worked to find a place where he could have an impact. He found that place in Kalamazoo College. He described his affinity to the area, saying:
“I had done my research into Kalamazoo, and I saw in it a lot of honesty. The people here have been through a lot, things falling apart and people moving away, but they don’t hide from their problems; they face and fix them.”
Emmanuel saw an opportunity to make a difference. He was driven to find a place there, but was initially frustrated. Between him and his future was a daunting cost. But luckily, his motivation won him a full-ride scholarship, allowing him to reach his full potential and become a part of something greater than himself.
“I am extremely grateful that I got this opportunity. I really believe that my life is going to change from this point onwards. In 10 years, I’ll look back and know that my life would not be the same without the aid I received.”
While Emmanuel got the aid necessary to have a promising future, it’s also important to look at those who were not as fortunate. In the next issue, we talk with John, who highlighted the huge amount of pressure that we put on students to decide their career path.
To be continued in the next issue