A while back, I was getting phone calls from a 412 area code number at various times of the day, for many weeks. Because I am an extremely busy person (saving the world at night and helping the poor during the day), I did not find a convenient time to pick up the 52 calls that I missed from this number. But I did start to have an idea of who the caller might be. One early evening, I felt my phone vibrate and saw that a call was coming from that same 412-xxx-xxxx number. This time, I picked up and as I had anticipated, it was a phone call from the Alumni House of the university that I attended.
After the caller recited the mailing address, e-mail address and contact number that she had on file for me, I verified that they were all correct and began to end the conversation. I had a good feeling that my former university was planning to send me flowers and chocolates on my birthday. After all, why else would they call me for 52 times, determined to get a hold of me just to verify my contact information? I definitely saw Godvia chocolates and yellow roses from 1-800-flowers coming my way.
But then, the question that every alumni loved came out:
“Would you like to make a contribution to —– University? Any amount would be greatly appreciated. Twenty dollars. Ten dollars. Or five dollars?”
Being the polite person that I am, I did not hang up the phone but proceeded to tell her that while I’d love to give back to my university, I am still in the process of paying back my undergraduate tuition debt and that my loan institution estimated that if I make all payments on time that in about 17 years, I’d be debt free. This is of course, that I do not plan to use my earnings to pursue higher degree(s), get married, have a family, raise kids or help the poor. After all, I do not care about developing and maintaining my personal, family or career life. It is more important to pay back the tuition debt that I owe from — University AND make donations to it because it is in more financial distress than I am.
The caller replied in something like, “Yes I totally understand. XYZ-BCBG-BCD-ABC-TLC-KFC but did you know that tuition alone does not cover the expenses of every student?”
No. I did not know that. But even if I knew that it does not change that I will be almost 40 years old when I am free from tuition debt. Knowing that does not change how much salary I am making. Knowing that also does not change the lack of financial sympathy I have for my former institution because I can spit out ten ways on how the university can stop wasting certain resources and save more money. For instance, it can stop blasting the air conditioner at the North Pole temperature, conserve buildings’ electricity by having it off when no one is in there, and not spend so much money on events during commencement week to impress the family of the students.
Sometimes, I would wonder how my intellectual life would have differed had I attended a public university as opposed to a private university, or there would be no difference. I’d probably have only had to pay little to no tuition because of my brilliant grades, crazy high SAT scores and phenomenal leadership roles. But, I can only wonder and probably won’t ever know how differently I would have turned out.
One of my friends told me that we have a tendency to rationalize our decisions so in hindsight I do not regret going to a private institution because I’ve met and become friends with smart, kind and ambitious people and was equipped with advanced education tools, and had wonderful professors. I just hope that sometimes capitalism isn’t so extreme to the extent that students have to give up the opportunity to attend an institution solely because of financial reasons. A friend of my classmate’s at my university was forced to drop out not because of her academics but because her family could no longer afford for her to attend the school. I was fortunate enough to have my family’s support to attend a private institution but I know a handful of smart, hard-working friends of mine who chose not to attend a certain university not because they did not want to but because of financial inhibitors.
Maybe one day, when I’m about to die or something, I’ll make enough money so that I can give back to my former institution by helping a kid of two be able to attend it. Or I’ll just help out my kids so they’d be debt-free by the age 39 instead of 40.