30 years ago

It’s been thirty years since I graduated from Eastmoor High School in Columbus, Ohio, so that means it’s been thirty years since I accepted a full scholarship to the University of Toledo. The rest, as they say, is history.

Had I not gotten a full college scholarship, I probably wouldn’t have gone to (much less graduated from) college. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to graduate school, and I most definitely wouldn’t be a college professor today. The daughter of a truck driver and a housewife, I never seriously considered going to college until my high school guidance counselor suggested that my standardized test scores would qualify me for scholarships. Since my family has never been one to refuse free money, that was it: if I could go to college for free, I’d go.

Class of 1987 senior awards ceremony

Much has been said about the power of a college degree to lift students out of poverty: workers with college degrees consistently make more than workers with only a high school diploma. But money is only half of the story. Nobody gets rich as an adjunct English instructor, but the job offers other benefits: for me, having an intellectually-stimulating, satisfying job I enjoy is truly priceless.

Thirty years ago, Eastmoor High School class of 1987. #tbt

This is easy for me to say, of course: because of my full scholarship, I didn’t graduate with student debt, and it was only in graduate school that I had to juggle my studies with the demands of being a teaching assistant while holding down a part-time job. In 1987, the value of a scholarship covering four years of undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board, and books came to a whopping $20,000: these days, a four-year degree costs significantly more than that.

Thirty years ago, Eastmoor High School class of 1987, with @ericloveslife68

But even though many of my current students have to work to pay their way through college, I still see higher education as being a sound investment. There are plenty of respectable, well-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree: when your toilet is spewing sewage or your car won’t start, you’ll pay whatever price your plumber or mechanic demands. But if you don’t want to pursue a trade, and if you recognize the job you’ll have in twenty years probably won’t be the job you have today, a four-year degree offers something better than a mere boost in pay: it offers the flexibility to do a variety of jobs, not just the one you get when you first graduate.

Class of 1987 senior awards ceremony

What my full-ride scholarship ultimately gave me was a ticket to ride. I sometimes tell people that I went to college and never came home, and that’s one way of understanding the trajectory of my professional career. Receiving a scholarship and going to college not only opened doors, it opened my eyes to greater possibilities.