Enrollment at ESU is down even further from the 4.7 percent decrease that occurred this time last year.
While many attribute this to a smaller pool of potential college students due to flat or declining birth rates or even chalk it up to a normal phase in the life cycle of a university, I would argue this is symptomatic of the changing interests and concerns of college-age generations.
We have all heard it: millennials are lazy, parasitic, participation trophy-holding, avocado toast-consuming, democratic-socialist ingrates.
We are responsible for the decline of the shopping mall, we go to Disneyland even though we are far too old, and we perpetually live in our parents’ basements.
We also, on average, accrue around $30,000 in student loan debt by the time we graduate, if we even attend college, to begin with.
Perhaps it fuels this “entitled millennial” stereotype further to say that part of the issue with declining enrollment, not just at ESU but nationwide, might be rooted in a “What have you done for me lately?” sort of philosophy.
Could it be that my peers and I are more skeptical of what this $30,000 piece of paper actually means to us, all the fees we are paying along the way uncertain of whether we will ever hold the job we are studying for or even minor things like the parking structure that is still not built?
College was a given for me, a staple part of the natural sequence of events rehearsed to me seemingly from birth: high school, college, career, marriage, kids, then in high school the push began for four-year universities rather than community college.
For some, however, the decision to pursue higher education is not as cut and dry as a being repeatedly indoctrinated from birth.
Let’s face it, 90 percent of my motivation to complete college stems from the fact that it is a luxury item I feel like I have to have.
It’s the Vivienne Westwood handbag of my life plan.
Sure it might not provide all the satisfaction I envision (perfectly curated outfits, or in this case a sustainable career), especially considering the cost… Years of my young adult life and thousands of dollars of debt that I will have to repay whether I am employed in the field I studied in or not, but nonetheless I am going to graduate and press my luck.
The point is that college is an investment and an investment that some young adults are choosing not to make.
A college degree is no longer seen as synonymous with a world of opportunity.
Materialism is not the big motivator for us that older generations expect it to be either.
I know plenty of people who are happily degree free and have not won the lottery or leeched off their parents’ trust funds.
My friend Salina backpacks across the world working odd jobs and taking amazing photographs that I envy every time I scroll through Instagram.
Is she traditionally successful and wealthy? No.
Is she fulfilled as a person? It sure as hell looks like it.
Maybe there are something too simple pleasures that capture the minds of my generation in a way other generations who do not have smartphones and do not follow my friend Salina on Instagram cannot fathom.
On the practical side of things, maybe some would-be students already have decent jobs.
It is not impossible to work and go to school but that does not mean it is easy.
If someone can support themselves and afford the things they want it is reasonable to assume there is less incentive to tack on another $393 a month, which is the average monthly payment on a student loan in this country to their living expenses, not knowing if it will actually pay off.
Classes are requiring ten plus hours of additional time to complete fieldwork, which often has to be taken in tandem during a single semester, are especially difficult while also maintaining even a part-time job.
I guess what I am trying to say is the little path of stepping stones that lingers in our psyches is a social construct that many of us are growing disillusioned with.
College is not the only stone being stepped over, millennials are also not having children or getting married at the ages or rates that were customary in the past.
Perhaps the drop in enrollment is another aspect of this growing desire to carefully make choices that serve our own individual needs, ignoring the pressure of society to compare ourselves to its strict metric of what it believes success is.
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