Why Placing Affordability over Dreams Should be Destigmatized

Angelina Astic, Contents/Copy Editor

Since I can remember, I have wanted to change the world. Yes, I understand that this is a cliché, but truly, there is no other statement to describe that sentiment. Coming from a background of hardworking, intelligent and tenacious individuals, the entirety of my academic career has been defined by the continuous pursuit of success: taking increasingly challenging courses, involving and applying myself to as many extracurriculars and activities geared towards my interests as possible, spending sleepless, tear-filled nights poured over my textbooks, compromising my mental and physical health, trying to craft a resume worthy of the top schools in the country. Then, the shock of a lifetime came. Those ivy-covered, book-filled and knowledge-plentiful schools, the ones I had spent years dreaming of, would not recognize that work, sacrifice and pain in the form of financial aid. 

I had always envisioned naively I now know that schools would meet me where I was. That they, taking note of all that I had done and the work that I had put in, would offer me a perfectly packaged acceptance to their university, complete with merit aid that could cover whatever my family could not contribute. This dream starkly contrasts with the reality that much of middle-class America is facing. 

In reality, to schools across the country, I am a number. A statistic. A customer buying into a system which profits off the dreams and desires of wide-eyed young adults. A system which is comfortable with students putting themselves into crippling, all-consuming and life-altering debt. One that supports and welcomes those in the top 1% and encourages others to make fiscal choices that they cannot recover from. 

However, in my family, I am not a statistic. I am one of the first, of a long line of talented and extraordinary women, to attend university. Those that came before me had the intellectual and emotional ability to pursue whatever they felt called to; however, the societies they grew up in prevented them from fully realizing that potential starting with the inability to receive higher education. Knowing that they wanted to break this vicious cycle, my parents set up a Florida Prepaid University Plan for me. They did not do this because it was a simple or fiscally-comfortable decision for them; my parents chose to do this for me because they wanted the world and its opportunities to remain open to me and my ambitions. 

Those who know me personally know that it has been my dream to lead a career driven by public service. With hopes of working in the public policy sector, law and eventually, entering the political sphere, I have long felt an innate calling to serve my fellow Americans in any capacity that I can. I realize that many are pessimistic when it comes to the politics and politicians of today’s world; however, I know that the more of those of us who enter politics driven by true and honest intentions to improve the lives of our neighbors, the better off our nation will be.  

Knowing my desires, throughout my childhood, my parents, teachers, peers and society taught me to demand more of myself. Years of work, stress, pain and sacrifice would eventually culminate in a college acceptance which would put me on track for a sound future that in order to realize my dreams, I had to attend the country’s top universities. Otherwise, what was it all for? 

When hearing this, I always wondered why such an emphasis was placed on college but not life itself.  Living in a society which has caused us to focus on our studies and career-related goals, we are not as often encouraged to consider the personal aspect of things. For me, both always felt equal. 

Because of this, making the decision to prioritize affordability first is allowing so many of my dreams to one day come true. In setting myself up for a fiscally-sound future, I ensure that I can get married, purchase a home and grow a family on my own time. Not only that, but I can provide myself, my future husband and children with a future free from economic constraints caused by crushing student debt.  

Unfortunately, today’s society, which promotes dreams over affordability, never stops to think of the consequences. For those who have taken on loans that are far too big a burden, many are unable to get married, have children and accomplish many of their personal goals until much later in life. This not only hampers their quality of life, it also means that certain dreams, which may rely on a biological clock, timing, youth or a variety of other factors, may not come true. 

I do not, by any means, wish to fearmonger with the above statement. All too well, myself and others know that life does not follow a set linear path and we all are on our own respective paths in pursuit of happiness. With that, I just hope to encourage others who are in a state of uncomfortability that it is perfectly okay to think of all you hope your future to look like and to set yourself up on a path for success in that.

To my peers who have the opportunity to apply and comfortably attend their dream school, I cannot express enough the feelings of happiness and pride I have for you. We all know the struggles that have gone into becoming the students, applicants and people that we are today. No words can describe how excited I am for you and this next chapter of your life. 

However, to those who politely smile when someone announces an admission to a state school yet erupt in cheers and celebrations for those who have gotten into their Ivy League school check your privilege. Recognize that all acceptances are something to celebrate and that your peers worked just as hard as you to get where they are today.  

After experiencing this challenging season of life, I have added another goal to the list of issues I hope to one day tackle in my time in office. Not only do I aim to ensure that the middle class has an elevated voice which is not forgotten by society and government, I plan to focus on improving our system to allow every student regardless of socioeconomic status to attend their dream schools without fear of crippling debts. It is perfectly sensible to ask students and their families to contribute a significant portion to their education but empowering a system which has placed Americans into $1.57 trillion in student debt is despicable

Our nation can and will do better, it is just up to us, in due time, to demand, create and implement change, creating a society which, like my parents have done for me, will allow us all to realize our full potential.