The Price Of Free?

So, the Ontario government has decided to give free tuition for post-secondary education to low income families.

Part of me is, like, where was this move 20 years ago?

Though that makes me feel like the rest of the whiners who are all, “But what about us? Aren’t you screwing everyone else?” Blah blah blah.

What I mostly think about is how I just finished paying off my student loans a couple of years ago, if that. And of how proud of myself I was when it was all finished and my account balance finally said zero dollars owing.

See, as with most of my friends, my parents couldn’t afford to pay my way through school, either, and nor did I expect them to. Instead, I did wacky things like get jobs, both over the summer, and even during my final year of University (Val’s Video – ah, those were the days). And I applied for financial assistance in the form of student loans. Actually, I think that first year there was also a small portion that was a grant, but then that was gone and replaced with a percentage of your loan being forgiveable, so that you could have less to pay back, potentially.

Every year I stood in line-ups to get the proper forms to fill out, and then in more lines to drop them off. Back in those days, we didn’t have the interwebs. We actually had to line up at the bank, and the school, and stores, and talk to another human being in order to get all that stuff done. We even had to go to a physical classroom after that, where there were even MORE human beings strewn about. Except for some of those 8:30am classes. We learned pretty quickly to not bother taking those, as we’d never make it to them on time. Ever.

I didn’t even have my first email address until I was in my fourth and final year of University, and it was a school address, accessed via the campus computer labs, because I did all my assignment typing on a TYPEWRITER! Whaaa?!

Anyway, where was I?

Right – most of us put ourselves into debt to pursue a higher education. We came out of there with an expensive piece of paper that we’d take more years to pay for than we’d put in to earn it. Some of us would even do it again later for more paper, and more debt.

I mean, tuition wasn’t the only thing, either. You had to live for each year without having a full-time job. You often had to pay rent, eat occasionally, pay phone bills (like, landline, not cellular), buy and consume enough alcohol to kill a horse but you’re in your 20’s so you bounce back like rubber the next morning, more or less. There were text books to buy (and thus more line-ups at the campus book store), and school swag to wear at the football games when you possibly should have been studying. Tuition was a chunk of change, to be sure, but it wasn’t everything. Not even close.

There was, however, a certain sense of, like, pride, for going through all of that. Not just anyone could go on to post-secondary school, and not everyone should. I don’t feel that a person’s ability to do so should be set by their family income, but nor do I believe there should be hand-outs, either. I believe when someone works for something, there is a greater sense of accomplishment once it’s achieved. What’s more, we learned better balance. We knew what each of our hard-earned dollars was worth beyond the classroom. We made choices in how we spent what we had, or even if we spent what we had. We made sacrifices. Not like babies on altars and virgins in volcanoes, but sacrifices just the same. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we did earn everything we got.

Now I’m in my 40’s with no children or career to speak of, but I’ve paid off my student loans, and am essentially debt-free. I still make choices, and sacrifices, and I still have rent and bills and the like to pay for every month. I still struggle.

But the difference between me and my peeps and those getting free tuition is that we know we can do it, get through this whole financial, adulting phase (please let it be a phase) because we already have. We learned certain life skills in addition to the book knowledge we picked up in the classrooms we paid to be a part of. We knew what those hours were worth, because we’d worked for them. Many of us would work several years after to pay for them, too.

I guess really I just don’t understand the all or nothing mentality, of this and so many other things. Why not raise or lower tuition based on family income? Like with tax brackets? That way, those hours in the classroom will have the same worth for everyone inside them, not just the ones who struggle to afford it. So much in the world is all or nothing, and while I would have loved the idea of free tuition back in the day, I’m not sure it’d be worth giving up the feeling that I actually accomplished something, and the crazy satisfaction I felt when my loan balance finally hit zero. I’m sure there will still be loans and debt, because school is expensive. I’m just not sure giving part of the experience away for free is the way to go, especially when the real world – the one that happens after schooling is done – doesn’t quite work that way.

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One thought on “The Price Of Free?”

  1. I’m with you. Luckily I lived with my dad but neither parent could afford tuition. It took me 6 years to pay off my loan…in the 80s. I worked summers, during the teacher strike etc. and lived on about $300/month. But I was proud of myself after having paid it off.

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