By Alyson Mitchell
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
College is a financial and mental burden. How can you be sure college is for you?
With elections around the corner, the topic of student debt is re-appearing in mainstream media. As of May 2018, Americans owed over $1.5 trillion in student debt, leaving over 45% of college alum to feel college wasn’t worth the price tag. Many jobs are only obtainable through having a college degree, yet, the pay of those jobs is minimal compared to the debt.
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is facing backlash for saying she wants to forgive student loan debt. This could allow for graduates to start their lives with a huge weight off their shoulders, and this loan forgiveness could help increase the consumption of those under 35. But others are worried that this plan will increase the amount they will pay in taxes.
What could this plan do for students? The benefits of college are outweighing the cons. The amount of mental, emotional, physical, and financial stress placed on a college student is staggering. In this day of age, students may feel like college is the only option they have for a successful future.
People like Maria Villella were unable to finish their education due to financial and situation circumstances. After being pressured to attend college, Maria quickly realized college wasn’t the right option for her: “It was not what I wanted; too much stress and no time to make money to support myself because of the homework load.” Maria dropped out after her first semester. The financial burden of that one semester continues to weigh down on her a year after she left. “I valued a private and religious education, thankfully my loans are small but regardless, I have to work really hard to pay off those loans so I can do what I’m really passionate about, studying esthetics”.
Maria works two jobs, as a Key Holder at the Fragrance Outlet and Sales Lead at Calvin Klein, but continues to stress over paying back her loans and have enough money left over to pay bills. She is no stranger to financial struggle growing up with one parent. After leaving college, to dismiss the stress of the workload, Maria finds more stress in the financial liability college left her with.
Students are faced with an extreme amount of stress, especially during their first semester. Niagara University student and Sports Management major, Lauren Templin, said “I wanted to drop out my first semester very badly because of my stress and anxiety.” The first semester can seem very lonely and overwhelming. College campuses are a new environment and students can struggle to find a balance between their new student life, social life, and work.
Niagara University’s financial aid office provides scholarships to help students like Maria. The offices webpage states “In short, our goal is to provide students with a positive, caring environment so that they may grow to their full potential as well-educated and well-balanced individuals, regardless of their economic or social backgrounds.” Financial aid is one form of support students can receive but there are other options for struggling students to seek help.
Many universities offer programs and services for their students stress and anxiety management. Niagara University offers free counseling services throughout the semester and brings in therapy animals during midterm and final week. The University at Buffalo offers test-taking seminars for students with test related stress and anxiety. But some students like Scott Reese, a Chemical Engineering major at the University at Buffalo, don’t take advantage of these programs said “I don't attend those seminars because I feel that I could be using that time to be studying.” Reese suggests working out a few days a week is more beneficial for his stress.
Sometimes college just isn't the right choice for students, Maria explains college “was stressful and not where I wanted to be. My mental health rapidly declined”. High schools should be teaching students how to explore their options. Students must know ahead of time what they can mentally and financially manage before leaving high school. Often, students are too young and haven't had enough time to explore their options before deciding to attend a university. Students may feel college is leaving them with a lot to be desired.
Gianna Lopez, former Niagara student and current library page at the Lewiston Library, said “school has just never been for me to be honest. I haven’t ruled it out as an option though.” Lopez explained that she at times feels pressure to re-enter college.
Students often feel pressured by their parents and their high schools to attend a four year institution. 5 out of 6 respondents felt directly pressured by an outside force to attend college while one respondent, Templin, explained she didn't exactly feel pressured but “I wasn’t given any other options besides working.”
A four year institution is not the only option. There are plenty of two year programs and trade schools like BOCES. Both community colleges and trade schools teach students skillful trades and certify them to enter the workforce. They are a more affordable option for students looking to expand their education.
College provides students with many different skills, academic and social skills, but for some college isn’t worth the time spent. David Siwinski attended Niagara County Community College for a semester before making the decision to leave “I felt out of place and uncomfortable. The entire experience made me feel like making money is the most important thing in life… I will probably be working minimum wage for the rest of my life answering to someone who’s probably a lot younger and possible even less intelligent than I because they went to college and I chose not to.”
College is stressful enough as an academic institution and new environment for students, the financial struggle current and past students are under is profuse. Warren could help students start their lives with less financial stress, improve their mental health, and improve their consumer power. Forbes explains that student loan debt is “even more of a burden for the monthly budgets of millions of Americans who will be dumping their income straight into student loan payments, not spending on products, services and other purchases that keep our economy churning.”