Dear Lady who worked at the Office of the Registrar,
When I came to your hallowed halls I was a wide-eyed kid who still believed that a degree from a university would allow me to change the world. I guess I believed that because when I was growing up that is what everyone told me. Heck, that is what your institution told me when I received my acceptance letter. I walked into your office brimming with excitement and possibility and ready to secure my position “on the roster of Those Who Do Things” to quote Dorothy Parker. It didn’t take long for you to crush my naive little spirit. I don’t remember the context of our conversation, but I will never forget what you said next, “we are losing money on you.” It was like a kick in the gut.
You were referring to my status as a holder of the “Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan,” something my parents had bought into when I was still in elementary school and allowed me to get a bachelor’s degree without accumulating a penny of debt. The program was ended in 2003 when state tuition was deregulated and because of that deregulation it has gone into a considerable amount of debt, but a contract is a contract so folks like me still had their tuition covered. I suppose that is the money I was costing your university, but I still cringed when you said it. You see before that day I thought young people were considered to be a promise of a better future for this country and any investment in us would be well worth the cost. I had all of these romantic visions of how an education would set me free, could help me set others free, but now I see how silly that all is. When you looked at me all you saw was dollar signs and when you found out I didn’t pay full-price it left you with a bitter taste in your mouth. You cared about your job about as much as the guy who sells hamburgers across the street. You were there because it paid your rent.
I guess I can’t really blame you. That is what happens when we commodify something as priceless as an education. We all suffer. Most of my peers went into a tremendous amount debt for an education that taught us how to fit into a system that is unjust and unsustainable. They have to take jobs at corporations that they do not believe in to pay it off. You, on the other hand, lost your ability to think critically. If you hadn’t you would not have said that to me.
When I recounted this story to an older friend whom I have come to consider a sort of mentor she said, “you’re lucky you figured it out so soon. It took me a long time to realize that”. She’s right, so I guess I should thank you. You taught me the most valuable lesson I ever learned in college: That first and foremost universities in this country are businesses that aim to make money for their stockholders and secondly they are there to provide a service for their clients which just happen to be students.
So yes, after receiving a degree I do feel freer and more enlightened, but I must say it is in spite of you. I got that education from the professors whose salary and departments you continue to cut all while building beautiful new buildings and adding more administrators. I am free because of a program you consider to be a thorn on your side. I organize and participate in leftist politics much to your chagrin, and I have the luxury of doing this because I don’t have debt collectors breathing down my neck.
I went to several universities before graduating and I don’t want to say at which one I had this encounter because it really doesn’t matter. I could be talking about any of them. Education in the United States is at a crisis point and it is going to be one hell of a spectacle when that bubble bursts. The kicker is, I probably will be going back to graduate school. This is not because I feel it is necessary to my education, but rather that to do what I want I need that shiny piece of paper. Plus, I still have a year left on the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan and want as much money wasted on me as possible.