The academic quad at Southern CT State University in New Haven SCSU

I know money is a common pain point among people who are pursuing higher education, regardless of their status. They may be an incoming freshman, currently an undergraduate, or even thinking about graduate school.

I am a senior at Southern Connecticut State University, and while I have an amazing scholarship which covers tuition, I understand how daunting the prices of higher education can be and I personally know other students who feel the pressure of costs. I believe it’s important that four-year universities are affordable because students feel forced to find the highest paying job in their industry rather than the job that they feel would be a genuine fit for them.  

Zakai James

I like technology, I have a little more than surface level knowledge about computers, and I can adapt to any new device with ease. However, that’s as far as my knowledge of computers goes because I don’t have much passion for it. In the Fall of 2019, I came to Southern as a computer science major thinking, “This is the major that’s going to make me the most money,” but in retrospect, I see how flawed that mindset was. I know people who are fit to be computer scientists, they study something about it every day, but me, I was just in it because of my surface level interest of technology, and I thought it would be a good way to make a lot of money so I would never struggle financially. I feared paying student loans. 

It was the fall semester of my sophomore year. I was in the library studying and watching TED Talks. Somehow, I stumbled upon Talks about people who were working in the field of communications. I had only heard about this field once prior, in my freshman year when my friend had this class where he had to do a short podcast. It was cool, but it wasn’t for me.

However, this TED Talk made me realize that the communication industry is something I have a genuine interest in. I could use those skills anywhere, I didn’t even think whether it was a high paying industry or not because I knew if I had a passion for it, opportunities would come. A few days later I made my final decision and changed my major to communications.  

I feel lucky for breaking out of the mindset which puts money before passion because I know students who haven’t. I knew an artist, we both came to SCSU as computer science majors, we have the same scholarship, and we both have loans to live on campus. This young woman is such a talented artist, and I genuinely believe she could build a successful career from her art. She wants to, but, as we both knew, computer science is seen as the go to industry because seen as the safe choice, and there’s this fear about “starving artist” that takes people away from their passion – the person who goes the path of art school, then their career never takes off, and now they’re trapped with student loans.

We lost contact, but last I heard, this looming fear of paying off her loans scared her into sticking with computer science, even though she hated it, and that hurts to think about it.  

We worry about the costs of college because it has the potential to affect us for the rest of our lives, and I feel it deters a lot of people from even considering going to college. There was someone else I met in my junior year, she graduated before me. She was also a communication major, and I remember on the last day of classes we sat outside talking and she said something along the lines of, “Welp, I’ll be working 9-5 to pay off this debt until I’m 40 years old.” It’s sad to think that someone can work so hard in their 4 years of college and still have these thoughts, but unfortunately, it’s a possible reality.  

For many people college is the next step to education after high school, but they’ve reluctantly accepted that they’ll potentially put themselves into debt for two decades. Affordable four-year universities are essential to society because people are losing sight of their passions when their only thought is, “How much money do I need to pay off student debt.” It’d be great to see more people with a positive outlook on their life after college, and I hope we can get them there. 

Zakai James lives in Waterbury.