College is Privilege

Your alarm goes off at 7:00 a.m. Your “Introduction to Sociology” class starts at 8 a.m. You lie in bed for another ten minutes, debating on whether or not you should even go. You decide to go, and to wake yourself up, you grab your daily grande Pike from Starbucks. You’re reminded that the day ahead of you consists of classes that don’t end until 3:00 p.m., and then you’ll finally be free.

According to worldatlas.com, the top five most illiterate countries in the world are South Sudan (27.0% literacy rate), Afghanistan (28.1% literacy rate), Burkina Faso (28.7% literacy rate), Niger (28.7% literacy rate), and Mali (33.4% literacy rate). What is the main cause of these statistics? According to worldatlas.com, the cause of such disturbing statistics is poverty.  This is applicable to the U.S. as well, with Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Mississippi being 5 of the least educated states in the country. Not coincidentally, these five states are also part of the country’s list of 10 poorest states in America, according to roadsnacks.net.

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Not only in this country, but in the world, money has been the top priority. Money has enslaved, abused, and killed people; it has been used to further racist, sexist, classist, nationalist, and homophobic sentiments. Money has even taken over education (unsurprisingly). Why isn’t education considered an inherent right for all individuals? Historically, the white, land-owning men were the only educated people in this country. Today, thankfully people of color and people of differing genders and identities are allowed access to education (or so we like to tell ourselves). One of the main factors limiting many individuals of different identities from receiving higher education is money. Now, only those with money are able to receive an education.

The average cost to go to a private university in the 2017-2018 school year was $34,740. If someone is taking 32 credits a year, this cost is equivalent to a whopping $1,085.63 per credit. Because of money, education in this country can be seen as both a privilege and a burden. Most students must take out loans in order to afford an education and have to pay back these loans for their entire lives. Yet, to be able to take out loans is still an advantage over those who can’t even afford to pay for necessities such as food and shelter.

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I am not from the richest part of California. Most of my friends belong to the lower-middle class. My mother was unable to receive a higher education because she could not afford it. Some of the people that I love the most have struggled to afford the education they so rightfully deserve. Thankfully, these people who I love were fortunate enough to receive just enough scholarship and loans this school year to be able to receive an education, and thankfully, we are all able to afford to survive and then some.

It’s easy to believe that college is a financial burden, because it is. But college in itself—education in itself—is an incredible privilege to have today. Even if you are unsure of what you want to do in life, you are still able to connect with others and learn about the world and yourself in ways you wouldn’t be able to if you weren’t in school. To be able to go to class, even if it is at 8:00 a.m., is a privilege. To be able to have the choice to attend class or school is a privilege. Many people, young and old, don’t even have the right to choose whether they want to get an education or not, because they wouldn’t be able to afford it anyway. The Starbucks Pike you got is most likely the result of a laborer getting paid less than minimum wage in Brazil. This person doesn’t get to have an education. This person only gets to work and maybe make enough money to survive. This person has children, and these children will not likely be able to receive an education either, so they’re put to work once they’re old enough. A family struggling and working endless hours to survive should not be a situation common in the world today, but it is. If a family can’t even afford to survive, how can we expect them to afford an education? 

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The capitalist society in which we live in today prioritizes money over people's lives, therefore deceiving us into thinking that we are lucky if we have enough money to live comfortably. Capitalism says that survival in the world is a commodity to be earned through hard labor, rather than an inherent right for all human beings. Capitalism says that those who cannot work do not deserve to live. 

Having enough money to survive and receive an education can appropriately be called “freedom” in today’s world, for many have been enslaved by the greed of others, as well as (the lack of) money and an overwhelming abundance of hopelessness. If you think that only after you’re finished with classes that you’re free, you are wrong; you are free in and outside of class as you have the choice to engage or to sit idly, waiting for the time to pass, which, yes, I think we can all admit we've been guilty of. But as college students, we are free, relative of course to those who cannot afford to go to college. We have the freedom to think, to decide, and to act. We have the freedom to protest and change. We have the freedom to live our lives the way we want to live them. But those who don’t have enough funds—enough rights—cannot and will not be free.

What can we do? It’s been established that as college students and as individuals with relative freedom, we have power. We have the power to acknowledge and recognize our own privileges, as well as the power to use our privileges to call out those who are being oppressive and inhumane. We also have the power to amplify the voices of those who have fewer privileges than us, to use our platforms as young and educated people to educate and support others. Education should be a non-discriminatory right. If it’s not a right, then we, as educated students, should and will use the freedoms we have to make it a right.