Is Higher Education Empowering or Enslaving?

College students are faced with financial, social and sometimes physical barriers that define their experience

by Samantha Lopez, Nina Lakhiani, Leen Basharat, and Anthony Cianciulli

Opportunity, debt, money well spent, or tied to an unpredictable career; higher education leaves students with one or a combination of these advantages, or, obstacles to consider. With this in mind, there’s a question that begs to be answered: Is higher education empowering or enslaving?

Student experience differs greatly, but with price of tuition rising each year and employers requiring degrees and experience, the question of whether education is worth the cost remains.

Regardless of the student, each voice has a story to tell. No two experiences are alike. One student may have to sleep on campus and stay late hours to avoid the financial burden of paying for a parking pass while the other may feel lifted by the opportunities that higher education has provided them with. In fact, students Jasmin Barbosa and Mikey Fields tell stories just like these.

Sophomore Jasmine Barbosa feels enslaved to education while Mikey Fields feels empowered by its opportunities.
Barbosa spends much of her extra time at the Charles F. McElhinney Hall as she waits for the finances to afford a parking pass. Conversely, Fields proudly attends the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication and interns at the Shape Community Center.
Both, with vastly different impressions of higher education, have allowed their environments to mirror their situations.

Some students, like Supply Chain Management major, Dara Hall, feel deduced by higher education. It can be easy to see enrollment numbers and forget that these are not tallies to fill a quota; they are people with aspirations that have decided are worth the time and price tag that it comes with.

“They don’t look at you as an individual,” Hall said. “They look at you in terms of your race or ethnicity or your major, and it’s always pushing you to do more to make the university look good.”

Not all students share the same opinions, though.

Communication Disorders senior Tooba Tukdi mentions how higher education has placed her family in a financial bind and how FASFA has made obtaining her undergraduate degree a reality.

Due to the financial bind college has placed on her undergraduate degree, Tukdi has reconsidered her next step of entering graduate school.

“I think (undergrad) is great, only because of FASFA,” Tukdi said. “I am worried about my post-graduate degrees, my master’s. I’m not so aware of the financial aid that is going to be offered… and so I’m actually reconsidering a lot of what I wanted to do in the future.”

Millions of students reconsider their future and end up dropping out of school entirely for a wide variety of reasons.

“I feel like with your degree a lot of people look at your certification and they don’t realize how much money you actually put into it,” Tukdi said. “That’s something that very few people pay attention to especially in the world that we’re living in right now, degrees matter a lot more than experience… I guess that’s the price you have to pay.”

For Marine Corp student veteran Natalio Lopez, going back to college has been easier with the help of the GI Bill.

GI Bill is one of many financial assistants for college students. In 2012, there were 1.1 million military students enrolled in college.

While a large percentage of students may feel enslaved toward the thought of using student loans for education, just as many take advantage of the resources provided by higher education to ensure that they do not fall victim to the financial enslavement.

Although the idea of borrowing money for college may seem like a necessity for those who do not have the means to pay, there are hundreds of scholarships offered by institutions and thousands more from outside donors willing to give away free money for those students ready to utilize everything the world of education has to offer.

In 2012, approximately 29% of undergraduates and 35% of master’s students did the so called “impossible” and graduated debt-free.

There’s no doubt that earning a degree opens a plethora of doors constantly presenting opportunities waiting to be snatched at the hands of hungry graduates.

On the other hand, students like Accounting and Finance senior Trevor Dinh have found the opportunity cost of higher education is worth its struggle.

“Those that view Higher Education as a financial burden,” Dinh said, “(Are) viewing college wrong and they’re doing college wrong.”

Dinh is one of many students who rely on scholarship and financial aid to fund his college education. To him, earning this money coupled with hard work utilization of one’s resources, can help a student see the benefits of higher education.

The two-sided pendulum of higher education can be seen at all ends of one’s experience. It’s all a matter of perspective.

“I believe the key to doing successfully in college is being motivated,” Dinh said. “I personally feel like no matter what background you come from, … you should be motivated to do well in high school, to earn scholarships, to get into college and pay for it yourself. It’s all motivation, it’s all in (your) head.”

It can be easy to hear a question like ‘Is higher education empowering or enslaving?’ and immediately come to a conclusion, but after listening to these student’s stories, have you changed your mind?