If You Can’t Pay for College, Don’t Go

What would students like to change about school?  Our series continues.

Today’s post is from Aewl.  His perspective?  College should be reserved for those who can pay for it.


I’m currently a Freshman at a local Junior College. All my classes are online classes as I work during the day full time as a Carpenter for the local school district. Yes, I’m a bit older than most students as I graduated from High School 28 years ago. I did a semester of college right after High School, but didn’t do well as I was more focused on partying than studying. Times have changed and I’ve matured just a bit.

One thing that I can’t get over about college today is all the remedial and prep classes that are not only offered but usually pretty full. 28 years ago, there were few if any remedial courses offered that I remembered. I’ve never had to take a remedial course, so I can’t comment on whether they are a help to students or not.

If I could change just one thing about college, it would be to get rid of Pell Grants. That may seem a bit outlandish, but let me explain. By making college affordable to many people that years ago would not have been able to go to college, it basically makes it an extension to High School. There are quite a few people that if they had to work to pay for their college would not go. These are the same students that do poorly in college and really have no business being in college. Colleges are obligated to try to teach students that are not prepared and are also under pressure to show decent graduation rates. To achieve this, they have to hire more faculty member to teach remedial courses and also to lower the bar of expectation. There is a real danger of grade inflation going on throughout the nation. Today an “A” doesn’t mean near as much as it did a few decades back.

As I do the work for my classes, I have an incentive to do well which has only come from years of working hard and learning from life’s experiences. Unfortunately, even though I do well in my classes, due to grade inflation, it is not seen as much of a big deal as it used to be.

In my day job at the school district, I get brief glimpses of students from K-12 in classes. I also get to interact and develop friendships with various teachers. For the most part, most are motivated to teach well, but of course there are the bad apples in the system that have forgotten why they are there. The lack of parental involvement is a clear indicator of a student’s future failure in the academic world. Consequentially when these students go on to college because the government is subsidizing their education, they have to go to remedial classes which take up resources from the college that in my opinion could be put to better use for the students that are prepared for college.


What do you think of Aewl’s perspective?  Do you agree that students should hold off on college until they have the means to pay for it themselves?

Tomorrow’s post: Katy thinks we should lighten up about grades.

Yesterday’s post: Emily thinks school is too easy.

Are you a student?  What do you think should change about school?  Go to this post to leave your thoughts, or write me a message.

Image by jitheshvv


20 thoughts on “If You Can’t Pay for College, Don’t Go

  1. If I may say, and I do apologize for my poor English, everybody must be entitled to study at the college and pay cheaper rates, first of all, then, it’s duty of the teachers to keep the quality of teaching always high
    whenever there are guys and girls who seem not to give their best in a specific area of studies, the teacher should encourage the guys and the girls to consider, eventually, another course , or, eventually leave the college and choose another path.


  2. Two points:

    1) I agree that not everyone is really cut out for college, though I think it usually has less to do with their potential ability than it does their maturity or goals (particularly, the lack thereof). I would be all for larger technical skills programs, and less emphasis on transitioning immediately from high school to college; I think most people would benefit from spending a few years in the military or working for NGO’s or non-profits, particularly in foreign cultures.

    2) I grew up well below the poverty line and rely on financial aid to attend college; even though I work while in school, my life would be very different access to aid, and I imagine many others are in similar situations. The notion that something as socially valuable as higher education should be reserved for those able to afford it out of their own pocket would impoverish us as a society were it put into effect.


    1. Your second point is my point – I had to leave university because of funding issues and I never returned. I wish there had been a way for me to continue and it was never about my ability to do well or motivation. At the point that I could afford to go back, I made the choice to stay home to raise my children instead. I now work to ensure that my children can have a complete university education.
      I also feel strongly that most people who are on financial aid are appreciative – they don’t go out and party it away. This is the experience I have from my children’s university peers.


  3. That’s really interesting. “By making college affordable to many people that years ago would not have been able to go to college, it basically makes it an extension to High School.” I totally agree. I see college as a school that helps you build the foundation of your future career. But if everybody can afford it, there will be some people who don’t know what they want in their future. To them, college shouldn’t be important. They should quit, get a job somewhere, work hard and learn from life experiences. Once they know what they want to study, or what career they want to pursue via college education, then they’ll also have the money to go to college. Great post!


    1. They should quit, get a job somewhere, work hard and learn from life experiences. Once they know what they want to study, or what career they want to pursue via college education, then they’ll also have the money to go to college.

      Or they’ll have responsibilities that they can’t simply drop in order to give their time and attention to college coursework.


  4. I realize that my intellectual snobbishness must really be coming out here, but I would submit that instead of financial need being the criteria for attending college, how about the old fashioned ability to simply do well– and without the need for remedial courses first?

    Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom is that “you cannot get ‘ahead’ without a college degree” and I think that’s led to both “because we can” pricing of degrees from the edu-industrial complex and an overemphasis on the true need for a college education.

    The upshot is that we are in a collective world of hurt with respect to student loan debt. Some news reports are indicating that it’s actually passed credit card debt in absolute numbers. (Without Pell Grants this would actually be a worse situation… or not, but that’s another topic for another day.) And we are all aware of the difficulty to discharge that student loan debt, right? It can follow you right into the grave.

    As parents of too-soon-to-be college age children, we are deeply and sincerely wondering whether college is worth the “investment” at all… considering what the world they will enter after college might very well look like. I suspect that all our children will need to find work first and then go to college if they are so motivated afterwards. And we’ll keep our fingers crossed that their degrees actually do have value.

    By the way, I attended college in the previous century, and community colleges were already being considered to be “big high schools”. (How many geographic areas have a “Harvard on the Highway?”) The one course I took at one after getting my degree (simply because I was interested in the subject matter) didn’t do anything to change that stereotype, as much as I may have wanted that to happen. Even so, it seems to me that you get out of it what you put into it… which kind of brings me full circle to my first point.


  5. Honestly, I have so much trouble understanding this perspective. I just can’t get my head around the idea of getting rid of Pell grants to increase motivation. I absolutely agree that there’s a low level of motivation in college students these days. I go to a very large state school that has some seriously outstanding programs (journalism, business, music, education, etc.) that attract ridiculously talented students while others are almost laughably easy. Students from all kinds of backgrounds come to my school and many of them take the easy route. But I don’t see the connection between those that receive Pell grants and those that are “slackers.” If anything, it’s the kids who come from money who are more likely to lack motivation.

    I am lucky enough to come from a family with a decent amount of money, so I haven’t had to worry about applying for grants and loans. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t go to college; it was expected of me as the child of a couple with numerous advanced degrees (BA, BS, MS, 2 MDs, and a JD between the two of them – yeah, I know) who could pay for my education essentially out of pocket. That opportunity has absolutely nothing to do with my level of motivation. Of course, it just so happens I’m also lucky enough to have a passion – writing – which I’ve channeled into a career path – journalism. But I have many friends from similar backgrounds who don’t have that inherent love for a certain field. They’re moping around, failing classes, switching majors, taking forever to graduate, and just generally acting like the folks Aewl complains about.

    My friends who receive Pell grants, however, were generally not raised with the same ideas that college was a given. Many of them are first generation college students. I can’t speak for all of them, of course, but in general they are much more motivated because they can’t take their education for granted. And incidentally, many of them DO work – work-study is a common form of government assistance for those who qualify for federal aid.

    Being on the lower side of the income scale certainly doesn’t make you any less motivated than those from the other half. Pell grants only pay for so much – loans, work/study, merit scholarships, and after school jobs make up for the rest. And with the cost of higher ed increasing every year, students need all the help they can get. I work for my university’s foundation and we’re down to 7% of our budget coming from the state. In the 2009-2010 school year, in-state tuition went up by $1000 in the middle of the year! Very few people can pay for school on their own; we shouldn’t take away one of the largest forms of aid from those who really need it just because there are a few bad apples who lack motivation.


  6. @ Jan
    sorry to say that, but I find what you said slightly offensive, as I find it discriminating to preclude people who can’t afford the college the possibility to study
    first of all
    then, you are maybe forgetting what being teacher means in terms of responsibility toward individuals and society. It’s quite obvious to think most of the guys are insecure about their future since that nowadays even their parents are at risk to lose their jobs.
    What a really good teacher should do is just educating, which means being able to address guys to find, follow, their own path- eventually.
    As you said in your comment, it sounds like people who can not afford to study are not worth to be educated and for that reason, have to ‘get a job somewhere, work hard and learn from life experiences’. As that is a punishment. It is, actually. Being paid at the minimum wage, working like a donkey not less than 10-12 hours per day. Well, here the new. Most of them already do that because they can not afford to study. And even a bigger number of graduated people have to do that, because there is no job.
    If I were in your shoes, I’d talk about meritocracy instead of snobbing people who are already ‘working hard and learning from life experienceì, maybe would like to study but can not.
    Sorry for being polemical and, once again, for my poor English


    1. Laura, I’m sorry to hear that you found what I said offensive. It wasn’t my intent to offend someone. My point was just that students should know what they want to study before going to college, because otherwise the first few semesters will be a waste of time. I have many friends who go to different colleges worldwide who have told me exactly that. I’m not underrating the hard workers or anything. I actually was talking about meritocracy in my statement above. I know that many people cannot afford college. What I am saying is that those who can afford it should know what they want to study beforehand, otherwise it’s unfair to those who can’t afford it, because some of them actually do know what they want to study. Thank you for your insights.


  7. Oh, and one more thing that I forgot: community college is meant for people who aren’t ready to go to a full-on university just yet, whether due to money, time constraints (jobs), or educational skills. I went to my local community college for two terms due to a failed attempt at a gap year (2008 economy crash killed my dreams of finding a job abroad) and half the people there were attending because they were not intellectually prepared for university-level courses. So I don’t think it’s fair to use students in community/junior college classes as examples of the average university student. Of course many are just as prepared as students in universities, but you can’t hate on kids taking remedial classes in community colleges because that’s half the reason they exist.


  8. I agree with much of Aewl’s opinion. It’s like a giant machine went through our country years ago, sucking up all seniors in high school and funneling them straight to college. I was one of those. I never really thought about going to college, or not. My father said to me one day, “Your going to college. If you have a degree, you’ll have it made.” So off I went, declaring the same major that half of my friends declared. Five years, and scads of money later, I was spit out with a degree, and went into a “my career” making a whopping $12,000 a year. What a disappointment!! So what did I do? Went back to college! Spent more money, more time and now I have been able to scrape my way into middle class. If I could go back in time, I would do things a lot differently. It’s been almost 30 years later, and I’m just beginning to feel I’m getting the benefit from my degrees.

    In our society, we need to stop labeling whether someone is “college material” or not. I hear the saying over and over again, “Well, not everyone should go to college.” Like, college was the be all to end all. It’s not! Sure, there are majors that truly need college….like doctors. When I had surgery three years ago, I was very happy my doctor went through a college medical program complete with a surgery rotation. But not every profession needs to have degreed individuals….not everything needs to be studied, ad naseau, until it’s bordering on rediculous and wasteful. The biggest incomes in our society come from two sources, sports and entertainment. Neither of which require college degrees to be successful. Some of the wealthiest in our country did not go to college, and if they did go, dropped out:
    Bill Gates Lebron James
    Steve Jobs Tiger Woods
    Simon Cowell Tyler Perry

    The question posed should be “What do I want to do to earn an income as an adult?” rather than “Do I want to go to college?” Depending on the answer to the first question, then they should research and carefully weigh all their options. Having been a part of the educational system for the last twenty years, I can tell you there is a push in the schools to get all students to go to college, and there is a subtle message that if your not “college material”, your not worth much, and I think that is the wrong message to give. And, of course, this started the whole “everyone has a right to a college education” thing that has brought about debtedness, remedial courses, dumbing down of college programs, and an oversaturation of our economy of degreed people who all want us to “show them the money!”


  9. First he has a point about remedial classes, but is he saying that everyone, who needs financial aid, is taking remedial classes? I need financial aid and I am not taking remedial courses. I understand what he is trying to say but to take away the Pell grant just so people can get a job and pay for college by themselves is ludicrous. I think he has the right idea yes it will help them with work experience and they will get more mature but with the job market as it stands today will just hurt those that get a job to pay for college. I believe that everyone should have the chance to at least go to college for one semester to see if that is what they need.


  10. I definitely agree that not everyone is cut out for college and that it has become an extension of high school to some degree, but I do not agree that we should take away public funding. I didn’t go to college for free and worked full-time all the way through, but I would not have been able to go to college (or get my master’s later on) if not for public assistance. Much of this help is given to deserving students and we should not take it away just because some students abuse or waste it. Maybe what we need are stricter college entrance standards, even to junior and community colleges. Maybe even interviews that could help determine college readiness.


  11. I went to college and entered knowing exactly what I wanted to do- I wanted to double major in education and Spanish, and minor in music. A complete plan- and I did it all. However, there were more days than not where I actually understood why I was there, actually was invested in learning in each and every class, especially the classes that did not directly relate to my majors. Truly, I just wanted to be out in the classroom or traveling abroad practicing my Spanish. I saw many friends disappear from college after 2 years, because they did not find a path for themselves- whether that was interest, motivation, maturity, or related to financial reasons, who knows?

    I do know, however, that my husband left high school as soon as he was legally able to get out of there- it just wasn’t made for him. And college certainly wouldn’t be either, that he knew. But after a living in a variety of places around the country, holding a variety of jobs, he eventually got his GED and ended up in the Merchant Marines and then the Navy. In the Navy, he thrived, and found the hands on learning he had been craving for YEARS, working in the engine rooms. Now, he has a very successful job at a gas and steam turbine power plant and while his spelling is questionable (always our joke) he is intelligent and valued in the workplace.

    I suppose my point is this: I went to college on many many loans, but was not socially or intellectually ready, Despite that fact, I succeeded because I already knew what I wanted to do with myself. My husband needed some “self-exploration time” before he discovered the kind of training that was worth his time and money, the latter not being as necessary when one joins the military. I think we need be more open in society to having that self-exploration time if needed, ready to support our kids if they seem lost, needing that time to find a their way a bit.


  12. A year or even two of work experience between high school and college would do a world of good to almost any student, however, only allowing those with the money to pay would be a horrible idea, leading to an even more top heavy society, divided between the rich and educated and the poor and ignorant.

    I don’t think that Aewl meant to imply that, rather that students should go get a job and mature before they wasted their time drinking beer all night and skipping morning classes. I’ve been there and done that. A year of work, waiting to become eligible to return to school after flunking out did me some good a few decades ago.


  13. I wasn’t entirely certain about college immediately after high school, but I had a number of scholarships (although, alas, not enough to pay for everything) and I would have lost them if I took even a year off to work and save up.

    Would it help to offer some sort of financial incentive to schools with high rates of student completion? I dunno, but to me it seems that universities are the new predatory lenders – they admit anyone who can pay for a semester, require remedial classes for students who were underprepared (but yet were admitted!) in addition to the courses required for a degree, and if students drop out, oh well, so sad, START PAYING UP, KIDDO.


  14. I’ve read through the comments and I have to say that I tend to lean both ways on this issue. Pell grants were a boon to me while going to college. I spent two years at community college before transferring to a larger university. I used a MEAP scholarship for those two years and Pell grants and loans for every year at university after that. I had two years of free school and several thousand dollars in free school through Pell grants and I still didn’t take most of my classes seriously. Between the two schools, I noticed even then that there was a vast difference in the students. At community college, while there were the slacker students and the overworked students and the students in-between, for the most part they came to class ready to work and learn. At university, things were a little different. I never heard anyone talk about using their remaining financial aid money to pay down some of their current loans. I never heard a student talk about their part-time job as a means to pay for some of their school. I remember smelling alcohol and weed on several students in several classes. I remember low attendance and students complaining about failing the class because the professor didn’t like then when I knew that they had only come to class once every other week. I listened to stories about students using their financial aid money to buy a new car or a stereo system or to buy drinks for woman at bars.

    But now that I’m a teacher at the community college level, I see where the money is–at times–going to waste. This isn’t to say that all students who obtain a Pell grant are wasting the money; however, I do see anywhere from 1 to 5 students per class I teach stop showing up to class after the financial aid checks are received. At the schools I have taught at, we call these student’s ‘paycheck student’. These students use their financial aid, loans, and grants as a paycheck instead of getting a job. To make matters worse, these students don’t actually drop the course–because they would have to pay the loaned money back by the semesters end if they did. Instead, they simply stop showing up to class. No email, no notice. My remaining students will look around mid-semester and ask, “Where did the class go?” But this doesn’t mean that all students are like this and it doesn’t mean that Pell grants should be taken away.

    One possible solution might be to have colleges not accept students until one year after their high school graduation. During that year, the student could take the remedial classes or test out of them, but not yet be eligible for credit-courses. Then, once they have passed the remedial classes or tested out of them, they could use the remaining time to get a job, volunteer, travel, or just sit and meditate on what they want to do with their lives. The job could be any job for any wage; just some sort of work to get the student to realize what the world is like. Travel doesn’t have to mean leaving the country. It means going to some place you haven’t been to and experiencing it. Volunteer at an animal hospital or a retirement home or help plant a community garden or just help your grandmother clean out her attic. Get your hands dirty. Then go to college–if you want to.

    A second possible solution could to have a before-you-get-to-register-for-classes, required course on financial aid and what it means to your credit. Have an expert explain, in very clear details, what happens if you use your financial aid as a paycheck, what happens when you don’t finish your degree after taking out those loans, what happens when you fail or drop out of a class one too many times. Have the class take more than just an hour; have it take two or three weeks. Take attendance. Have it require course work, an essay, and a final exam. Give the students a grade for the class that counts towards their GPA.

    A third possible solution could be to not give students financial aid that covers their entire semester. Make them have to pay out-of-pocket for part of their schooling. Not too much; a small percentage of their total cost each semester. Let’s say 10%. At my college, that means for every 3 credit hour course, you would pay $30 out-of-pocket. That’s not too bad. At a larger university it would be a little more, but who couldn’t afford even $500 once a semester with a part-time job? It isn’t much, but it might just be enough to get students thinking about their loans, their degrees, and their reasons for being in college.

    A fourth solution could to be start weeding out the ‘paycheck students’. Start having the financial aid offices and the registers offices look for students who have registered for Composition 1 six times and dropped each time. That’s a pretty clear sign they’re not in college for a degree. There would need to be interviews with the student, of course. Sometimes, life just gets in the way; however, life doesn’t get in the way six semesters in a row just after financial aid checks have been received.

    Of course, the three best solutions are to make all K-12 schooling more demanding, making college courses across the board more demanding, and having more parents take a actual interest in their child’s education. Too bad I already wished for a cup of coffee, a real Chicago-style donut with frosting of white and sprinkles ‘pon it, and to avoid a fight with the eldest Billy Goat Gruff or I’d go grab my silver oak leaf pin, a gift from the Summer Court. (Jim Butcher would be so proud!)


  15. I think you your wrong about pell grant. I think everyone who want to get higher education should. Even if people have jobs they still have to bills pay. pell grant help a lot my friends finish college. To get a good career you need a college education. Many people can not afford to pay for college. not everyone is smart enough to get scholarship. My dream is to get a college education and I hope one day I will be able to get one. Also if people paying out of their own pocket to go college and choose be lazy that none of your business. I do not think lazy people should get pell grant


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