$20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

There is a steep price to pay for knowledge in this country. Year after year, prices rise among our nation’s finest universities and colleges. At the same time, the weight of the burden that many of us choose to put on our backs gets heavier and heavier. Even worse: I pursued higher education for more knowledge and experience and culture, not to pad my resume or launch a career that would consume the rest of my life. But what is the cost of being an intellectual nerd?

My family has never been rich, but we’ve never been completely poor either. My father has spent his entire life working and never went to college. After he took over the family business out of pride rather than honest business sense, my younger years meant that at least one parent had a steady paycheck. Eventually, the decision to put so much into a failing business caught up with us, and after savings dried up, it was clear there wasn’t a silver spoon left for me to get to college without serious assistance.

None of that is an excuse, of course, for taking on so much debt with no clear plan in mind to pay it off. It also has to be stated that I never lacked. My family has more or less always been Working Poor or something slightly better off, and no matter what my parents always found ways to feed, clothe, and entertain my brother and I.

I was an ignorant kid. I thought college was a guaranteed thing for me in a number of ways. I was going to finally bloom socially from my socially-challenged High School self. I was going to experience new cultures and meet new people and escape the narrow spectrum of people typically living in rural Alabama. I thought I would be able to pursue my love of knowledge – history, literature, philosophy – without restraint.

Those things came, eventually, but not as rapidly as the steady stream of 90’s television and movies had led me to believe. And they all came at a cost that I am finally realizing will haunt me for the next thirty years (which is longer than I’ve lived by five years, so a pretty daunting amount of time in all seriousness). I won’t claim complete ignorance, but I won’t claim that I was completely aware of my actions either. I was a kid with delusions and dreams.

But I still believe in my Liberal Arts degree. I still believe in everything I learned from spending the last few years of my life studying Philosophy and English. Despite reason, I still have faith in my past self’s decision to better himself by learning how to learn again and falling in love with the pursuit of knowledge. Money be damned, I am passionate about the Liberal Arts and I took the swan dive to prove it.

I will survive, but I am unsure about the future of higher education in the United States. I firmly believe that everyone deserves a chance at higher education, and with it, a chance not dictated entirely by financial decisions. Beyond thumbs, the human experience is defined by passions for the arts and an unrelenting pursuit of knowledge. Humanity thrives and grows and betters itself on the back of curiosity, not the unimpeded pursuit of one more dollar.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t have any fixes. With student loan debt now being so incredibly vast, I can only hope that we the people and those we elect see the need to not choke the already struggling students with interest rates that are far beyond fair. Yes, I understand that this is truly our burden to bear and that ‘there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’. I have too much honor and pride NOT to pay it.

I leave you with the words of Benjamin Franklin: An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

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One thought on “$20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”

  1. A great article that’s sobering in it’s truth. When I graduated with my plain ol’ history degree, I had no grand ideas of what to do with it. But eventually I found a path that led me to a not-too-dissimilar master’s program. I was incredibly lucky that my undergrad was paid for…but that was not the case with grad school. I didn’t even think about the debt I had accrued until that very first bill arrived. Now, I’m several years into repayment, and it’s still painful knowing that I’m decades away from paying it off. The state of student loan programs in this country is a shameful mess. You seem to be taking the high road in thought and action, and that’s a good thing.

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