Three Go Fund Me campaigns have come to my attention in 24 hours. Were they for brilliant new business ideas? A semester abroad? A social issue dear to someone’s heart? Were they, sadly, even to help pay for the medical bills of a sick child? No.
Each was a plea for a specific amount of money to pay tuition and fees due to this university or that for a student who, otherwise, will not be able to return to school.
I’m feeling quite stuck here. I want to ensure that every student has access to college and the adequate financial support to get that education. I know you do too. But what have we come to as a society that our young people have resorted to personal fundraising campaigns to pay for next semester’s balance due? The students who have resorted to the crowdsourcing model (and those platforms are plenty) are showing their resourcefulness, sure, but there is a precedent we are setting – and a deeper issue we are overlooking when we pledge $50 to support Suzie’s degree in social work.
The majority of our young people know they cannot pay college fees, tuition and textbook costs on their own. As the crowdsourcing trend continues to grow, more such pleas appear in our newsfeeds on social media and our inboxes. Which do we choose? The young woman, who at age 19, is supporting her little brother after becoming parent-less when her single mother passed away from cancer at the end of her freshman year (real example)? Or the 21 year old first generation college student with two semesters remaining? Do I set a budget for my giving and expect to divide that over 6 individual donations? Twelve? One hundred? By giving to several students am I actually getting any of them closer to their goal by only donating twenty bucks? And what about next semester? Am I setting a precedent that I am supporting these six students every semester until each graduates – and no others in that time frame?
What are we doing? And more importantly, what are we doing to our young people? The anxiety involved in the plea for financial support that may or may not come through could become extremely stressful for even the healthiest and most emotionally supported child, but what about the child living in poverty with chronic traumatic stress disorder (the more accurate description of the ongoing impact of PTSD that is re-triggered on a daily basis)? Should a child’s college completion hinge on a well-written web-based appeal to strangers that is, at best, a lottery? After all, these students are not the only ones in need. What if one young person’s plea spurs a further web search for other, less fortunate students to support?
I must stop here. You can see the layers and dimensions of the larger crap-shoot we are seeing young people pin their futures on. This should not be the way we are leaving our youngest adults and, arguably, most vulnerable newly independent citizens, to work toward their future. A larger dialog must happen and more work must be done to make college affordable for all students.
I wince each time I hear about another former student of my own who dropped out of school after one semester, or three semesters. They have lost the hope they once had, the momentum to continue facing the challenges ahead of them — and what have they gained? More stress, potentially more trauma and a darker outlook on the future. Well, that and one, or three or more semesters of debt and no college degree to justify the checks they are obligated to write. That’s a very hard bill to pay.