Judy Nichols of Wilmington, NC

(originally published on LiveJournal)

In a recent issue of Newsweek (February 21, 2005), Judy Nichols weighed in regarding the previous issue’s My Turn, an essay about a woman struggling to pay off her student loans. Ms. Nichols had this to say:

“… I still find it hard to sympathize with Anna Marrian’s plight. She is in this predicament due to her own lack of responsibility. She could have cut down on her debt substantially by going to a cheaper university oreven a community college, checking into scholarships or grants, … and choosing a profession that makes more than $30,000 a year to start… In nine years [my daughter] will be getting ready to go to college and the burden of financing it willfall upon her. Marrian’s experience should serve as an excellent example of what not to do.”

Ms. Nichols, you should be ashamed of yourself. I can hardly imagine what world you live in, but it’s not this world. In this world, $30,000 a year to start is damn fine money! I have friends who have graduated from wonderful universities and make less than that per year. Most of them are teachers. Should they have chosen another path in life, just to make more money? Or should the government choose better funding for schools over sending taxpayer money to the Middle East?

I, like many of my friends, chose to go to a private university. Carnegie Mellon gave me a generous financial aid package, better than any of the University of California schools to which I applied. That package included two different student loans, in addition to grants.

At the same time I was accepting financial responsibility, signing on for 20+ years of loans, some of my friends and acquaintances chose not to go to a more prestigious college. Instead, they went to a community college, conveniently located across the street from our high school.

At Carnegie Mellon, I learned far more than I ever could have at UCLA, my original first choice. As a freshman, all of my classes had fewer than 30 students. In my entire college career, I was only in about 5 lecture courses of more than 50 people. I was able to choose and create my own majors, and pioneer a new interdepartmental program between the Colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences and Fine Arts. I spent 2.5 years actually teaching a computer course. One of my class projects was a write a textbook. I realized that I didn’t want to become an actress, that technology wasn’t as scary as I had thought. I was probably the first person ever to be taking Movement and Introduction to C++ at the same time. (Note: I got a C in Movement, but an A in C++. I guess I made the right decision.) I was in classes with several of the same people, but at the same time, there were always new faces. CMU was the perfect size for a person interested in learning.

My friends who went to community colleges generally did not fare well. That’s not to say that community colleges are bad places. Certainly, they have a lot to offer. But if my child had the choice between spending $1,000 per semester at a community college or $15,000 per semester for a private university, I would encourage her to go to the private route.

I’m not rich, and I never will be. I had a job in tech, but quit this year due to a disability from an accident. My husband, also a CMU alum, now works in tech after being unemployed for almost a year. During that year, I think we both would have felt blessed if he could make $30,000.

An education is worth paying for, even if you have to keep paying. The best way to find a job and start a career is through the best education you can get, not the best you can “afford.” Education should not, must not, be only for the rich. Parents must save to help their children become educated. Some day, those children will most likely need to care for you. Who do you want your child to be then?

Education goes beyond work. A love of learning should be nurtured and channeled. Then, when we’re done working, we have the ability to make ourselves better.

Current Mood: irate

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