High expectations, little hope

Our expectations of students don’t match the resources we provide.

Eric Best

You won’t hear this during a college tour but despite our bright, new infrastructure, technology and research breakthroughs, being a University of Minnesota student can be extremely difficult. A high school education doesn’t cut it anymore in the job market, as an unprecedented number of students invest in higher education. Yet, students are expected to deal with a whirlwind of life-changing problems: paying for tuition, a poor job outlook and an often ignored voice in politics.

Arriving at the University, most students expect they will have a degree in four years. After a four-year degree, the average student debt is over $24,000 nationally, according to the Project on Student Debt. Sadly, this figure may seem modest for most students, especially at the University where tuition has doubled in the past 10 years alone, due to a lack of state funding and high tuition inflation.

As a society, there is the expectation by banks and the government that students, who have little to no financial or job experience, will be able to pay these loans. This assumption has been rooted in moral terms, rather than realistic financial ones, because as a society there is a both a contractual and moral obligation to pay off loans. Yet, students are forced to turn to a culture of banks and lenders eager to give loans freely to any student with a huge tuition bill with the expectation that they will be able to pay it off.

But you will get a job right after college, right? Despite an all-time high of young people with degrees — over 30 percent nationally — employment among young adults ages 16-29 was 55.3 percent as of 2010, compared with 67.3 percent in 2000; it’s the lowest since the end of World War II. This contrasts with figures for older Americans, ages 55-74, who are employed at an all-time high of 50.45 percent. Thus, more highly educated students are not finding employment, even if their older, more experienced counterparts are.

Despite the lack of a job, students are expected to suffer silently while trying to cope with their debt. One doesn’t hear much about student debt in federal politics, despite the statistic that 30 percent of young adults have degrees, and college attendance has become a societal norm rather than something for advanced fields. Even amongst the University community there is a theme of a lack of representation of students: the University lacks a union for graduate students to collectively bargain on issues, even as campuses nationwide are unionizing.

If you survive the whirlwind of problems, then you are one of few. College currently exists as an internal contradiction: We are all expected to go through the apparatus of higher education, yet we are faced with ever-growing challenges financially and politically. Expectations of how a student must pay off debt and meet the job requirements for their next interview must change on every level of society, from our parents to the president. Political candidates must tackle issues that plague students, and young adults must continue to fight to be heard. Otherwise, these contradictory expectations will not change. If students do not have resources and support to pay their tuition, like state and federal funding, realistically financed loans, reduced tuition costs or a job market ready to hire young adults, there is no way we — the students — can meet these expectations.