Taking the longer, harder road to college

Sometimes you hear something sad, wonderful and biting – all at the same time.
Those were my reactions to a short essay on National Public Radio yesterday.
A young man, Sayre Quevedo, talked about his college dreams, and how they were smashed when he received his FAFSA – the federal financial aid report – and realized he couldn’t afford the high quality colleges that already had accepted him.
Sad , yes. You could hear it in his voice.
But there was something wonderfully courageous about his reaction. It wasn’t to cry and give up.
A year later, he’s now working two jobs while putting himself through his local community college. And, I suspect, he’s learning life lessons that a full-ride scholarship to college never would have taught him.
Sayre’s essay was biting because it cut, deeply and honestly, in a 19-year-old’s voice, to the heart of a serious crisis in our nation’s higher education system.
Increasingly, only the rich and the poor can attend our best universities. The rich can afford the spiraling tuition. The poor, if they’re smart, get scholarships.
The middle class is being priced out of the game.
I see Sayre every day in my classes at Monroe County Community College. Not Sayre, himself. He’s attending a community college in California.
But the desks are lined with young people like him – smart, hard-working students who have the same dreams – and are taking the same longer, harder road to get there.
I haven’t taken a survey, but it’s my sense that most of my students are working at least one part-time job, many two. Some are working full-time and going to college full-time.
 I talked to a young woman the other day who wanted to join the staff of The Agora, our student newspaper, but wasn’t sure she had time with her full load of classes and three part-time jobs.
She was serious. She had fallen in love with writing in an English course, and wanted to see whether Journalism was right for her.
I could see her working the numbers in her head, probing for how she could come up with enough hours in the day to wedge in another opportunity.
I couldn’t let it show on my face, but I wanted to give her a hug and thank her for the inspiration she provided me. When faced with that kind of courage, grit and hunger to learn, any problems I’ve had with my day seem to slide into the background.
Maybe I can work a little harder, too, to help a few students reach their goals.

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