A matter of desire


At the present time, the tuition for in-state students at the University of West Georgia is about $4,080 a year. The tuition is scheduled to increase slightly in the coming year but, when compared to many others schools, and especially private universities, it’s a steal. Still, to me it seems like a lot.

When I first began my collegiate life, tuition for in-state students at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., was $85 a quarter for a full-time student. That translates to $285 a year, excluding books and minimal fees. The two schools are, or were, about the same size, as far as student population goes.

When I began, I frankly had no money and my parents didn’t seem to have any either. Maybe if I had bothered to ask them, they could have come up with the cash but, for some reason, I thought that part was my responsibility. I didn’t know about Pell Grants, there were no HOPE scholarship programs, I certainly didn’t qualify for any scholarships, and I didn’t know about student loans — or if they were even available back then. So I went to the bank.

I made an appointment with a bank loan officer to request that I be allowed to borrow $100 on a 90-day signature note. I was all of 18 years old. The loan officer asked the purpose of the loan and I told him, “Tuition and books for one quarter.”

“And how will you pay it back?” he inquired.

“I have a part-time job, I live at home, and I will save the money and pay you back.”

“And what about next quarter?” he asked. “How will you go to school?”

I replied, “Having established myself as a good risk, I will borrow another $100 from your bank.” I got the loan and fulfilled all my obligations.

It wasn’t easy. Minimum wage at that time was $1.60 an hour and, although gas was cheap compared to today, I had that expense as well. The minimum wage hasn’t increased that much in 48 years but tuition has.

At some point, I dropped out, did a stint in the Marine Corps, and came back with my earned GI Bill benefit and was able to finish college, although I still had to work to make ends meet.

Sometimes, high school students will say, “I can’t afford to go to college.” Well, yes, you can. For one thing, state schools are still a good deal, community colleges and technical colleges are often even a better deal, and there are a plethora of grants and scholarships if you didn’t loaf in high school.

You may not be able to go to Harvard or Emory and you may not get to live on campus and live the fraternity or sorority high life, but college is within your grasp if you want it badly enough. There are jobs to be had on campus and off.

Some people see university as a sort of “finishing school” for those who didn’t gain their maturity in high school. It is not. It is a pathway to a more successful life and a prosperous career, assuming you don’t waste your time majoring in Byzantine literature with a minor in Aboriginal languages.

The purpose of college is to get a job; to be able to have a family and not have them starve or live in poverty.

So, while college is not free — and by the way, it is never free — if you don’t pay the tuition, say, as in New York, then the taxpayers have to absorb that load while you go to school on their dime — college is within the reach of nearly every capable person who qualifies for admission.

Besides, one can always go part-time and take a little longer. Again, it depends on how badly one wants it.

Not everyone wants to go to college nor should everyone. There are plenty of well-paying skilled jobs that often pay higher than one can make with a degree. Still, it is all about education. There are some exceptional people who can make a fortune without schooling or formal training, but those people are uncommon.

Yet, it is still America and the opportunities are still there. One can still succeed — if one wants it badly enough. It’s a matter of desire.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]