The power of the tuition dollar

The college experience is one transaction after the other.

Novalea Verno, Staff Writer

“Wow, your schedule is packed.” 

An innocent comment from a friend sends me into a cold sweat. My vision momentarily blurred from the vivid memory of a cursor blinking on a bright screen that reads “Enter CCV here.” My bloodshot eyes flick back and forth between a taunting screen beckoning me to spend a small fortune on a school in rural Pennsylvania and my phone. Lit up by a numerical recounting of a summer spent in roach-infested houses and sweltering third-floor apartments, my phone mocks my cowardice. The lines of zeroes are soon to be replaced with a “pending” notification and I am finding it hard to breathe. 

“Yeah, I just like to stay busy.”

With my short, scripted response I am thrust back into reality. A reality lived by many students funding their college education.

Putting myself through college has been the biggest undertaking I’ve experienced in my mere 18 years of life. I’d be lying if I said I’m solely funding my college experience. I’ve had some assistance from family, which I am incredibly thankful for, and a mediocre scholarship from Bloomsburg University. With every day spent as a student here, the weight of my parent’s sacrifice and my own journey into self-sufficiency looms over me.

Every week is a fight to spend every meal swipe and budget my flex dollars to the cent. Leaving anything unused is not an answer when I remember how I gasped when reading the final dollar amount for a basic meal plan. Each load of laundry is carefully scheduled and calculated. Every class on my schedule is attended. As I walk into each class I envision myself sauntering up to the professor, with no care in the world, and slapping a stack of bills in their hand equivalent to the price I pay per class. In my imagination I am unfeeling and unfaltering in the face of my finances, only to be rudely awakened when I spend an embarrassingly long time at the store wrestling with the price difference between store-brand and name-brand granola bars. 

Everything I interact with is a transaction in disguise. I give myself a tour of an academic building on campus I’ve never been to before because I’m paying for it. I attend office hours and schedule meetings because I’m paying for them. I volunteer for organizations and attend club meetings because I’m paying for them. I stay on campus most weekends in my dorm because I’m paying for it. I ride the shuttle, use the computers on campus, attend programs for students and more because I’m paying for it.

The culture on campus is a far cry from the carefree attitude often present at private, prestigious universities. Here the number of jobs you work is a bragging right. Humble beginnings from low-middle-income households are worn proudly on the sleeves and admission essays of many students. Plans for holidays are followed up quickly with the number of shifts being picked up to make it happen. I’ve yet to meet a student who has never heard of the financial aid office or hasn’t been in contact with them at least once.

Yet despite this outwardly acknowledged value placed on self-reliance, I feel like I’m alone. I watch as my class of 86 quickly turns into a class of seven after the syllabus week. I overhear conversations bragging about how many classes have been skipped in the semester. Honestly, I can’t even blame them. I may attend the classes, but I will be the first one to say I’m not always sitting front row, attentive to every word spoken and slide shown.

Is this contradictive attitude a learned trait that comes with time? Am I too new of a student, not yet fully hardened to the reality of college life, still floating on the funding of the last 18 years not paying rent? Or is my preoccupation with assigning the college experience monetary rates a side effect of an abrupt push into the real world, uninhibited by the surveillance of parents and teachers? Instead of answering this, I’ll continue to bury myself under a tight schedule filled with work studies, classes and clubs- because I’m paying for it.