Scalzi once said that “Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.”
The oldest of our young relatives is graduating from high school this year. She was excited about applying to colleges, but unfortunately she made some bad choices when she was 14, and again at 15. Things like getting low grades in PE and driver’s ed and other classes that one shouldn’t do poorly in. That combined with crippling math phobia caused by a bad algebra experience that killed her math and science grades after she otherwise got her act together has put her in the bottom half of her class. That means no four-year college for her.
We think she has two choices in terms of schooling– she can do an academic associates degree and transfer to a 4 year state school to finish out in a major of her interest or maybe some new love. Or she could do a 2-3 year practical degree in something like nursing or drafting. She’s not sure what she wants to do yet. We think that’s ok– she can change her mind after a semester or a year or even two. What’s important is that she get started.
Unfortunately the local community college is at least an hour away. This distance presents a problem because she doesn’t have a car, and even if she did have a car, the family has no way of paying for insurance and gas. Community college is more difficult than a 4 year school would be in that respect because there’s bus service in college towns. Yes, a 4 year college would cost more, but those would be long-term expenses rolled into loans and grants. These are short-term credit constraints.
She’d love to get a job to pay for transportation, but nobody is hiring. Her mother cannot get a minimum wage job in their town. McDonald’s had 500 applications the last time it was hiring. When a factory town does massive lay-offs, high school students are pretty low on the jobs totem pole.
Of course, since nobody is hiring, she can’t just go straight to work after graduation either. She needs education in order to get a job because the only jobs available require education. And if she has education she might be able to get a job that makes enough money she could get her own place– maybe even in a different town.
So community college it must be. There should be carpools that she can join at least until she gets a job that covers transportation. (And maybe the job market is better in the community college town.) We’ll pay for her tuition and books, and she should be eligible for fairly large Pell grants compared to the cost of community college. We’re hoping not to pay for transportation costs, but we will for a short time if it is truly necessary in order to get her to school.
Having always lived in a college town, it’s really hard wrapping my head around just how necessary transportation is if you don’t have public transport, and how difficult it can be logistically to even get to the “local” community college. Even if the buses to my neighborhood only ran once an hour I could still get to the university or community college without a car. And it’s crazy how small an amount of money can keep someone from having any options. (Not a trivial amount, and not small compared to what their family has to spare, but small compared to the value of a degree.)
We’re hoping that being poor won’t mean that she’s stuck with choices she made at 14 if she has well-off relatives.
Do you know anybody stuck where nobody’s hiring? What do people do if they can’t afford to get to school but they can’t get a job without school?