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When Student Loans Pay for Nothing but Palm Trees

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My husband and I are proud to have two very intelligent and well-educated children. Yes, every parent thinks their kids are special, but they’ve always done well in school and our family paid a great deal of money to help cultivate their minds. We sent them both to college in hopes of them having the best opportunities for lucrative employment.

What did we get in exchange for four years of massive expenses, plus the extra years on their own dime, plus the many (far-too-easily-attained) student loans they will be working for years to repay?

If you thought a solid job opportunity and a pathway into the middle class, you’d be wrong.

Every job opening in their field requires 2–5 years’ experience as well as their degree. I’m trying my best to help them find some job opportunity that will help them stand on their own two feet and begin putting money away, but it’s soul-crushing to help them submit résumés and write cover letters that will never be looked at.

I have begun to question my desire and push for them to attend college during their junior and high school years. My sermons of how much better their lives would be with a college diploma and the coveted higher paying career now sound quite hollow.

How can a young adult, with thousands of dollars in student loan debt hanging over their head, ever hope to work at an entry-level job earning minimum wage for 2–5 years to “gain the necessary experience” to enter a rewarding field? Shouldn’t their degree have prepared them with the experience they need? What was all that spending for? Colleges and banks continue to celebrate at the expense of our children.

What do I mean by that? My child spent her freshman year in a cinderblock wall dorm while her college of choice planted what I was told were $2,000 palm trees along the main entrance! (At least we knew what that rather hefty increase in her tuition was being spent on…) The massive fees and tuition were not to further my child’s education or comfort while learning as much as to increase the school’s “reputation” and their all-important standing in the national rankings. They didn’t care about providing a good value, or even a good education. They just wanted to make their place look like a five-star resort to outsiders—with a price tag to match.

One of my children attended a private university while the second child attended an in-state public university. Both graduated with a degree that gets them nowhere in their search for employment, unless they can prove they have several years’ experience. Where can they get that experience? A bachelor’s or master’s degree can land you a great part time position at the McDonald’s or Walmarts of the world.

So sure, live off a minimum wage job. Add to that the required 20% deposit necessary to purchase a home, and don’t forget your student loans and maybe a spouse’s college debts as well. We have done nothing to further our children in their quest for adulthood and independence. How disappointed they must be to realize the American Dream is completely out of their grasp after all.

I will concede that there are fields whose degrees garner a step up into the world of careers. But those are limited and somewhat flooded these days with thousands of bright-eyed graduates hoping for that lucrative career in law or medicine or finance. Anything else is simply the padding of college coffers for palm trees.

If I sound bitter, well, it’s because I am. I come from a middle-class family who worked hard without the coveted college diploma framed proudly on their office wall. Our dreams were for something better for our children. What we gave our children (and paid dearly for) was a mountain of debt and no job opportunities to be had. So much for the American Dream.

 


Edgerton Essays feature the perspectives of working-class Americans on the challenges facing their communities and families and the debates central to the nation’s politics. 

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Kim Quillen is an interior designer and mother, as well as a grandmother of two. She also dabbles in the antiques and craft industry. She resides in Ravenswood, WV.

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