If someone would’ve told me at the beginning of my senior year I’d choose Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College instead of following through with my four-year university dreams, I would’ve said they were lying. But now I can say it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
In August, I began my freshman year at MGCCC, a tiny school about two hours away from my hometown of Tylertown, Miss. The campus has a typical American college aesthetic—modern residential halls surrounded by older buildings that stood the test of time. I decided to attend MGCCC because it would be a smoother transition for someone leaving home for the first time. But personal comfort was only half of it.
High school teachers, coaches, and mentors urged my classmates and me to consider community college, and now I understand why. Tuition costs at most universities are already increasing at an average annual rate of 8%. Pandemic and inflation issues only aggravated that number, and virtual learning options did little to counter it. A plummet in student enrollment, coupled with state budget cuts, forced college boards to raise tuition and add to already inflating rates. The University of Cincinnati and Depaul University even froze tuition during the 2020-2021 academic year to dampen rates, but it did little to reduce out-of-pocket college expenses during a global pandemic.
In this environment, the average four-year university tuition for the 2021-2022 academic year in Mississippi was $8,409 for in-state students. Compare that to the $3,490 average tuition for a public two-year college and you understand my decision.
A community college would deliver me the same general courses (English composition, world history, etc.) I would get at any four-year university for a better price.
I’ve watched Millennials juggle stability and financial security while working to pay down student debt, but even they aren’t catching it as bad as others. Gen Zers will likely have to borrow more and in larger amounts for college. Student loan balances for older Gen Zers (born 1997-2002) are already higher than that of older Millennials (born 1981-1986). Student debt is 31% for Millennials compared to 36% for Gen Zers. The Biden Administration’s efforts to provide relief has helped, but the financial burden is still heavy.
So what does all this mean for a college freshman like me and other students across the nation? It means a growing sense of skepticism among ourselves about the value of a degree, especially if the so-called “golden ticket to the American Dream” comes with a possibility of years of agonizing payments to federal and private credit lenders. College debt projections could deter many young adults from seeking higher education. Frequent periods of inflation will only make matters worse, not just for students but also parents caught up in their children’s obscene bills.
Pandemic-driven inflation and ferocious spikes in housing, gas, and grocery prices, make me worry about some of the people I connected with last semester, the ones who didn’t come back after Christmas break. Some have graduated, but there are also those who had no choice but to leave.
College is meant to be a challenge. I accept that as truth every single day, whether it be issues with time management or lengthy research paper rewrites. Being in college means staying busy and finding moments in between for rest and relaxation. However, this experience shouldn’t come with this extreme caliber of frustrations. If college is supposed to be the gateway to success, it should not leave countless Americans in a grim financial reality.