Thursday, October 23, 2008

Financing College

I've seen a couple of news stories in the last few days about how the tightening credit market may affect student loans. Having just finished getting the kids through school, Mike and I were commiserating with these families. One thing that stood out, though, was the fact that some of the people interviewed really couldn't imagine choosing a state school over a private one, or working part time while they went to school, or choosing a school close enough to home that they didn't have serious travel expenses to come home for holidays. I guess what the student loan crisis is really doing is limiting options for students who were not used to thinking within those boundaries. In a way, I began to wonder if that might be a healthy thing.

When I am on campus here, using the campus recreation facilities available to me as an alum, I'm often surprised to hear conversations revealing that students don't work, don't live at home during the summer, call home for money frequently, and yet have more than enough "play-time" money for partying, clothes, spring-break trips, etc. Not all of them live like this, of course, but probably two thirds of them do. I really like being around these kids; I'm not writing them off as obnoxiously spoiled. And we do get a very academically talented population here, as this is our flagship state school, highly ranked in several disciplines. However, I think some of them are receiving less preparation for their future than they need. I know from what I overhear that many of them say they have never held a part-time job!

That's a shame. I probably learned as much of use to me as an adult from my part-time jobs as I did from my college classes themselves. Let see....

babysitting: I started doing this when I was twelve, and made a lot of money this way all the way through high school. Managing small children, seeing how different families operated, realizing the safety of my charges required my attention all the time I was with them, was great preparation for parenthood.

cleaning for a furniture store, and later for an office building: I learned that cleaning is never really done. Dirt happens. Someone has to deal with. Just do it.

on the production line of a plastics factory: We made those little disposable gloves that food workers use that look like baggies with fingers. For eight hours a day. Five days a week. I was the only girl on the line who had gotten a high school diploma, and the only one who did not have a child, though I was the oldest at only 20, earning me, for some reason, the nick name "rich b-----". Never, never, never want to work someplace like that again. But I did learn that you can do anything for three months if you have to!

university band library: I was hired for four hours a day, five days a week. The problem was, there was really only about 30 minutes of work per day. I learned I did not feel good about being paid to read novels by the hour, especially when I knew it was the tax payers of Illinois that were really paying me. I also learned that there is a ridiculous amount of waste in government institutions, and we need to proactively go after that waste.

two different retail jobs, one in a music store, and one in an outlet clothing store: I liked the music one. I learned to be patient with people working a cash register, having been that person myself. I didn't like the clothing one. When some one came to the counter with an arm-load of clothes, I wanted to say "Do you really need all that? Are you sure you don't have a closet full of clothes at home already?" So, I guess I learned that I don't have the "sales" gene!

research flunky for an agronomist at a seed corn company: I really liked this one. First, it was outside, which I loved. And the guy I worked with realized that I enjoyed having him explain why we were counting how many seeds had germinated per row, how many ears per stalk, which hybrids suffered lodging problems after a storm, etc. I learned so much there. It was the summer that I was getting married in August, which meant my tan made my little bit of Cherokee ancestry pretty obvious in our wedding photos, but I still think about what I learned as I drive around Central Illinois and look at crops out my car window.

I've done a few other things, since, even as a mom and home maker, I always worked part-time at something: daycare provider, foster parent, recess and lunchroom supervisor, voice teacher, crossing guard, and church choir director. They are always adding to my life experiences, and helping me to see things through other people's eyes. This is why I think it might actually be good for our college students to have less money available to them. If it makes them pick up a job to earn at least their spending money, I think it will be a good thing in the long run.

Did you have any part-time jobs you liked, or hated? What did you learn from them?


Donna said...

What a great idea for a post! I might swipe it and do my own sometime soon. :)

My worst part-time job ever was at the library of a University I attended. I "worked" in a special collection, where we checked out about one book a day. The rest of the time I did homework or whatever. The worst part, though, was when some lady paid to have an old phone book duplicated. I had to copy one page at a time on an old copier -- the kind that the lid moves back and forth -- and it took the longest three days of my life!

Rose said...

Amen! My children worked part-time jobs while in school and for at least one year out of the four lived at home to save money. Both my girls worked mainly as servers at a local restaurant, where they gained invaluable experience in dealing with people. I can't remember a "worst" job, but I did work for awhile in temporary office help at the U of I. Like you, I learned there is so much waste in government jobs, and also that a job where you don't have enough to do can be very BORING.

College tuition is becoming frighteningly expensive, but there are ways of dealing with it. In our area an excellent alternative is to go to the community college for the first two years, then transfer.

I keep thinking, too, Joyce, that some of this financial crisis may be good for us--to re-examine our values and re-think just how much "stuff" we really need.

Green Bean said...

You are so right, Joyce! I think our college students - and all of us - only benefit from having to work a little more, to not have things handed to us, to do the odd job here and there to bring home some bacon. Great post.

Joyce said...

Donna, Rose, sounds like we've all had those boring institutional jobs. Wouldn't it be great to change that culture?

GB-It's too bad so many families don't expect this of their students. It's true I mostly worked in the summer, not the school year, but it still made me budget my time and my money better.

Lady Sterling said...

I've worked part-time to full-time since I was 8 years old. I started with paper routes and babysitting. Then I evolved to summer jobs as a waitress and furniture factory employee (packing ready to assemble furniture). Then at the university I attended I worked in the Alumni office and then computer lab. The computer lab got me started where I am today. I started by assisting fellow students with the computers whilst achieving my music degree and now I am a programmer longing to return to my music!

My parents insisted we work at the earliest moment we were able. My college and summer jobs enabled me to graduate college almost debt-free. I think I only owed $1500 when I graduated and the money didn't all come from my parents. I had to pay for one semester and they would pay the next after scholarships.

Things are very different today and I would encourage any parent to encourage their children to work at some point when they are able. It also helps kids have a better idea of what they don't want to do in the future. (I did not want to work in a factory the rest of my life.)

Joyce said...

k-I didn't work for pay until I was about 12, and that was as a babysitter. Believe it or not, girls couldn't deliver papers when I was a kid! My own kids started paper routes when they were ten. For a while we had three routes in the family-pretty crazy! But they've all worked ever since. Unfortunately, college almost doubled in cost between my first and last child, so that youngest one had it rough, finacially. She worked three jobs, had help from us, and still has some debt. She still managed to get very good grades though!

DramaMama said...

This is neat - my favorite and least favorite jobs all took place in the same building. I worked at the grocery store...sometimes in the floral dept, sometimes in the deli! Guess which I liked better?? On Valentine's Day, I loved the late shift...all those poor guys coming in at 9pm, saying "I need some flowers..." Often I would tell them, "Oh, great, you can get some over in the meat dept!" The look on their face was priceless! Then of course I would tease them and whip up something absolutely wondrous =) The deli was ok...we got to sample stuff. It was frustrating when older people would come behind the counter and try to tell you EXACTLY how thick/thin they wanted their head cheese to be sliced and even though they set the machine to their specifications, you still did it wrong. I also didn't like how dogs followed me around, licking my shoes, on my way home from work. Yeah, my parents made us earn car privileges! Anyway - I learned a lot about serving people and being gracious even when I had a bad day or when the customers weren't always the nicest. I also learned how to finish tasks. I can't say I always apply this to my life right now, but I couldn't leave my station until the evening checklist was complete. You wouldn't leave flowers or meat out on the counter, just to punch out on time. You finish the job. I could probably talk your ear off about what I learned! It is disappointing the way our culture has changed...well, thanks for sharing your job stories!

Joyce said...

Mel-I have to laugh at the thought of dogs following you home! Now that's an experience you won't get in school!