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A Good Job

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Emily Costa
September 28, 2018

My generation, Millennials born in the 1980’s, were sold on a grand idea. Go to college, get a good job and be set for life. The notion of “a good job” was tied directly to ever-increasing salaries college educated employees of the 1990’s enjoyed. Now in our 30’s, living a decade after the Financial Crisis, we are all rethinking that promise and trying to pay for our education. It’s a lot harder than we thought it’d be.

I’ve been thinking about repayment constantly now. With one final class to go, I will graduate next spring with a Master’s of Public Administration. I’ve learned so much over my years as an undergraduate and now as a graduate student. When I walk across that stage next year I will feel smart and proud but I will also feel guilt, shame and fear. My name is Emily and I have a lot of student loan debt. I am happy that I went to college but the financial cost was tremendous and I will carry it with me, if I’m very frugal, for only one decade.

Growing up, my parents and many of my friends’ parents had not completed college. For my Mom, this meant slow moving wages and barriers to success over the course her career. My Father also didn’t receive a bachelor’s degree until his 40’s. He took one class a semester for what seemed like my whole childhood. He spent many Saturdays at the kitchen table doing calculus instead of enjoying his day off. As well-meaning parents do, they wanted to avoid these hardships for their children. From an early age “college first” was the only path to follow.

By the time I graduated high school, I had still not warmed up to the idea. I didn’t enjoy high school and I wasn’t inspired by my teachers. I told my parents I’d take a year off. This was before the gap year existed. My mom enrolled me in a vocational nursing program. After one semester, I dropped out.

It was not until three years later, when I enrolled myself in community college that my view of education and its purpose began to drastically change. I still remember one of my first classes, Western Civilization I. I fell in love with human history there and realized I was right—I really hadn’t learned that much in high school. It was at community college that I learned the difference between there, their and they’re. I was inspired and excited. I began taking more humanities classes: economics, psychology and anthropology. I was hooked. I transferred to a four-year college and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in European History.

After that milestone, I couldn’t resist my urge to continue. I wanted to learn everything, take every class and receive every degree. I was no longer the high school slacker or the college dropout. Although I knew student loans would be costly later, I kept looking back to my parent’s words. “Go to college, you’ll get a good job.” I enrolled in education classes, working towards a teaching certification but found myself wanting more content. I finally settled into my master’s program where after next spring, I think I’ll finally feel I’ve learned enough.

The “good jobs” however, are not really beckoning at my doorstep. The life I want is similar to the one I lead today. One filled with learning and creativity, one not necessarily based on a huge salary. But I have all those bills coming due. Instead of my education giving me financial freedom, it’s really backed me into an intellectual corner.

My friends with those really good jobs in finance and engineering are still paying their loans off too. They also still live in tiny apartments or have roommates. The conversation I have with so many of these friends results in an unsettled feeling. Did we know we’d have to pay these loans off? Yes. Did we know it would take 30 years? No. Did we know that we wouldn’t be able to buy a home? No.

Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I still feel emotional about my early years of college. Learning saved me. It gave me an outlet for my youthful angst and a channel for creativity. My classes and my college experiences all changed me for the better. I guess I’m just having a hard time figuring out why they had to charge me so much in the process.


Author: Emily Costa is a Master’s of Public Administration Student at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. She currently resides in Providence.  [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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