Morning Coffee – Way Too Early Edition

The dial on the clock says 5:30, even though this isn’t going to publish until around nine, this is how the day begins just about every morning. This morning is a little different. Now that schools out for a few weeks I have more time to work, which is good for my bank account, but not good for plenty of other things.

So since I’ve been a little out of the loop for the past few days, I want to take this opportunity to riff on something that’s near and dear to my heart, going to college.

Way back in fall of 1990 I started college for the first time. Even though my parents weren’t able to contribute much financially, I qualified for several scholarships that made it possible to go to school. One scholarship was based on my ACT score, and basically paid for my tuition, which at the time was just $700 a semester. The other was a scholarship that I received from the Music department. I was a music major at the time and they recruited me pretty hard. Finally, I was also eligible for some Pell grants and other financial aid.

At the time, I was like most entering Freshmen, young and stupid, away from home for the first time. I over-scheduled myself and basically did everything wrong imaginable. Still, my GPA wasn’t that bad even though my attendance in class was spotty at best. Sometime in the Spring of 1992, then President George H. W. Bush pushed for tightening the requirements on Pell Grants. Suddenly, that money was gone in Fall of 1992, and between that and several other circumstances, I dropped out.

Flash forward to almost exactly a year ago today. Nearly 18 years after I left school I made the decision to go back. There are a lot of reasons for the decision, but mostly, I realized that while I liked my job, I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was merely going through the motions. I was unhappy, and I wanted a change. I spent August through December winding down my business, and in January I took a part time job and enrolled in 9 hours at University of Memphis.

There were some things I wasn’t prepared for, but the biggest thing was the cost. At $300/credit hour, taking one class now costs more than a full time load at ASU in 1990. I thought maybe, eventually, I would qualify for some Financial Aid, but as of right now, that’s not happening. The best I can hope for is to loan my way through this school year, and hope my income is high enough to survive, but low enough to eventually qualify for something.

My GPA is hovering around 3.25 (transfer and current), and my income has been cut in less than half. When school starts in a couple of weeks, I will have paid nearly $8000 in tuition this year. But even though I’ve appealed my FAFSA score, its looking like loans are the only option, for at least another year. This is discouraging to me.

On Sunday, Sen. Jim Kyle wrote an op-ed in the Knoxville News that talked about the lottery scholarship. I had hoped that after my appeal I would qualify, but now three weeks after the appeal process, it looks like that isn’t going to happen. Based on the criteria on the TN Lottery Scholarship site I should qualify based on my income appeal. Maybe there’s something I’m missing. This whole financial aid thing is highly confusing to me.

Last summer, when Sen. Kyle announced his candidacy for Governor, he talked about making lottery scholarship money more available to people like me, who are less that 60 hours away from a degree, to finish school. Like the Op-Ed, he noted at the announcement speech that the fastest way to increase the number of people with bachelor’s degrees was to get people who have started back into school. He also noted that increasing the overall education level of the state was one way to attract more economic development, better higher paying jobs, to the state. His speech was part of my inspiration for going back.

I’m not giving up, but I am discouraged. I knew this would be hard when I started it, but I had no idea it would be financially crippling. If Tennessee is serious about increasing the percentage of people with college degrees, our legislators have to stop looking at the lottery scholarship fund as a means to whatever short term end they have at the moment, and make those scholarships available to more people like myself, who are trying to finish school, but have limited earning potential due to the time commitment of school.

I don’t think anyone realizes just how much of an investment, in time and money, it is for a nearly 40-something to go back and do this. It’s been hard, but also rewarding. The key is to not make it so hard, so financially crippling, that people can’t make the decision to go back and finish. Based on my experience so far, that is the case.

Hopefully in the next session they’ll make it easier…if not for me, at least for the next guy or gal that decides to take the plunge.

Ok, on to the Coffee…

Mike McWherter was in Memphis yesterday and talking about expanding pre-k programs in the state as well as business poaching that Mississippi seems to be so god at.

Haslam’s still running away from his GOP nomination. I wonder why he didn’t include Don Sundquist in that list?

Both of my parents are on Social Security, and they’ll come down on these people like a ton of bricks if they don’t shut the hell up.

Joe Powell with part 2 of his indentured servitude series.

And finally, someone please go pull a petition against this guy. No, not you Richard Fields.

Have a great day, see ya on the flip!

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