Five years ago, my community decided to invest in me and fund my university education. A combination of the opportunity for summer employment, along with generous support from local organizations, the state, and my college made it possible for me to graduate debt free. It’s tough to convey the depth of my gratitude, and also how disappointed I am that my peers were not afforded the same opportunity.
My funded education shaped everything about my college experience. Not needing to worry about payments during school allowed me to take advantage of co-curricular opportunities, attend academic conferences across the US, take unpaid internships, and build relationships with staff and faculty. These experiences helped me secure a wonderful job after finishing my Bachelor’s degree, allowed me to immediately begin a funded graduate school program, and encouraged me to find ways to give back.
It’s frustrating that these same opportunities aren’t available to everyone. To be clear, I’m not blaming my community. Regarding support for students pursuing higher education, Door County’s generosity is unmatched. However, many Door County students and their peers across the state still fall through the cracks, and I’ll be disappointed if community members continue to support government representatives who refuse to appropriately invest in future generations.
While I worked hard to ensure my education was affordable, many of my peers across the state worked as hard while also needing to do much more. Unlike these peers, my support system was strong, I never worried about providing financial support to family, my gender didn’t manipulate others’ expectations of me, and my race never shaped the way I was treated by people in power. All things considered, many of my peers worked twice as hard as I ever needed to. It’s not right that I was able to attend school debt-free while they will continue pay off loans (Wisconsin average after a four-year education = $29,460).
Consider what our workforce would be like if every high school graduate who wanted to could pursue some sort of debt-free higher education opportunity. Imagine how that would shape our community! It would mean more researchers finding ways to protect our loved ones from Alzheimer’s, software engineers expanding broadband to small towns, health care professionals maintaining high standards of care for an increasing number of older Americans, farmers with the tools to cultivate in an increasingly unstable environment, small business owners holding ground against corporate conglomerates that would develop our protected land and ship profits elsewhere, and educators continuing to recognize the importance of investing in young people. The list goes on, and much on the list requires some level of higher education.
My peers and future generations deserve the same support I received while pursuing my degree. As folks across our state begin to announce their bid for Governor in 2018, I ask that we together emphasize the importance of education, and demand that our candidates explain how they would reinvest in our students to restore Wisconsin’s status as a leader in equitable access to affordable higher education.
Milwaukee and Sister Bay, Wis.