I remember asking my mom why our family had immigrated to the United States from Vietnam. She responded, ďTo give you and your brother the best educational opportunities so you can get a good job and buy me a house when I get old.Ē
That made enough sense to me, so with bright eyes and the American dream in mind, I overachieved throughout grade school and was accepted into several colleges. Although I chose the school that promised me the most financial aid, I still needed to borrow thousands of dollars each year from my friendly neighborhood financial institution to cover the cost of tuition. Maybe it wonít be so bad after all, I thought, because a superior education will help me find a decent job after I graduate so I can easily repay these loans. At least thatís what everybody told me at the time.
Then my tuition increased by 10% in two years, and the amount I was paying out-of-pocket tripled. But of course my financial aid didnít increase along with tuition. In fact, as a direct result of the budget-balancing act by the state legislature, my Washington State Need Grant died a horrible death which resulted in a cut of over $6,000 per year from my financial aid package. And it was a Democratic governor who signed off on these budget cuts despite the Democratsí rhetoric that they represent the interests of young people and are the defenders of education.
This is why in addition to being a full-time student, I am now working two part-time jobs and a few temporary jobs on the side whenever I can get them, just to pay off the out-of-pocket part of my tuition. I will still graduate with about $32,000 in debt, and enter into the worst job market since the Great Depression, as will be the experience of millions of other young people. This ďAmerican DreamĒ which my parents sacrificed so much to give me a chance for and which I labored to attain has eroded in front of my eyes.
Despite all this, I count myself lucky for being able to have two jobs while Iím in school so I can pay even a tiny fraction of tuition. What about the other students who canít find jobs because youth unemployment in the United States is over 18%, with much higher figures for black-American and Latino youth (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8/24/2011)? What do these students do to stay in school? Move back in with their parents even if it increases their commute by an hour each way? Photocopy their friendís textbooks because they canít afford books themselves? Eat smaller meals because going hungry is better than losing the college education which they aspired to all their lives? Or do they just drop out?