I came to several realizations last Tuesday afternoon while driving from back to The Wetumpka Herald office from Alex City, hometown of The Herald’s corporate offices. I have to admit, it is a great experience for those who enjoy looking at the back of a John Deere tractor moving hay down the road for several miles. I digress.
I was encouraged by my editor Santana Wood to begin writing a column for the newspaper. For 20-plus years, I had the pleasure of publishing articles and text that did not include my name and photo. I believe this photo looks like I am headed to a political rally.
As I looked through the cracked windshield of my car, the idea of intelligently putting forth a view or opinion I hold seemed out of line from what makes me, me.
For example, my primary responsibility is to report what happened in the past. Years before I used to write marketing copy that convinced people to subscribe to magazines, attend events, purchase deer hunting and bass fishing gear and enroll in higher education at a university located in Montgomery. The closest I ever get to sharing my own thoughts and views is when I post something to my personal Facebook account for friends and family to see.
Another realization that came to me on that drive back from the mothership was my concern for the future of my daughter and all kids in the high school graduating class of 2020. Is a four-year university education — valued in the neighborhood of up to $100,000 at some of our esteemed state universities — worth it? Is it even possible for a middle-class family in Alabama earning the median household income of $46,472, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, to pay the bill?
I recall when I loaded my clothes and select few items in my car and blasted west down Highway 80 from Montgomery to West Alabama, higher education costs were a concern for my parents even though I received a scholarship that covered tuition.
How I earned a scholarship remains a mystery to me to this day. I was not a super studious kid nor did I set the world on fire with my ACT score. My scores painted a picture of average.
As my wife, daughter and I began the college shopping process I realized standardized test scores and GPA figures for merit-based scholarships have increased about as much as the out-the-door cost of a college degree today. That has put a lot of pressure on our senior — pressure
I think my generation did not experience.
Numerous study sessions with math tutors and a school-wide meeting with an ACT pro has certainly helped her tackle this all-important test. Yet the desire to hit a magical number that opens up more opportunities at more schools in the state has not occurred — yet.
What I expected would be a senior year where she could relax a little has not been the case.
Does acing this one test really have the ability to change a kid’s life? I think it does.
She has seen several of her school chums post scores of 30 or more. In talking with the parents of these kids, they are stretching their household budgets even though universities that have A’s and U’s in their initials offered these bright kids tremendous amounts of scholarship money.
What’s more, and rightfully so, just because a college or university freshman earns a merit-based scholarship, he or she typically needs to maintain a 3.0 GPA going into the following years to keep that scholarship.
I have to admit something — because I’m laying out a slice of my life for all to read — I did not keep my scholarship going into Year 2 at West Alabama. Thankfully, the overall cost was low enough at that time between borrowing from Uncle Sam and the help of my parents, I finished college.
I can only imagine the potential stress college freshmen face these days knowing a lot is on the line once the ink is dried after signing those scholarship forms. I am probably telling my age here as I suspect the business is carried out solely in a digital manner.
That brings me to another realization; this is business decision. Choosing to attend a university is an extremely serious matter that can change the course of one’s road in life. A friend of mine said he would almost rather give his son $100,000 to start a business than attend college for four years.
That is a total shift in the way of looking at the process. My generation and several generations before mine were drilled by the influences in our lives that said college matters. Times change and I certainly see the position of forgoing college as being a viable option.
My parents had high school degrees and held blue-collar jobs. They did well for themselves and provided for my younger brother and me. I just cannot dream how it must feel to graduate with a four-year degree and a huge loan balance.
These challenges to financing a college education, choosing an institution based on a business decision and the high expectations put on high school seniors now were really unknown to me until our daughter started to show an interest in going to college several years ago.
I suspect life — as it usually does — will work out well for our daughter and she will land at the ideal college that fits her best. I just need to subscribe to the Nick Saban method — trust the process.
Daniel Dye is a senior reporter at The Wetumpka Herald. He can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org