Now I have a child in her second semester of college and for some reason neither of us can remember, it seemed like a smart idea to sign her up for math class at 9:30 am. What we did not take into account was the forty minute drive to get to class and the additional hour necessary for actually getting up and dealing with dogs prior to leaving, in addition to the absence of available parking at her community college.
Community colleges, if you haven´t heard, are experiencing an explosion in popularity. Enrollment is off the charts, their classes are packed, and every classroom is scheduled back-to-back, hour to hour. And so are their parking lots. I spent Monday driving our car around, while my daughter attended her math class, while approximately 100 of her fellow students circled alongside me. It is a daily "Christmas-Eve-at-the-mall" parking jam.
Initially, I was drafted to drive down with her simply because of the mountain roads and the major variables in weather we have here, plus she´s not particularly into driving one way or the other. Now I find my primary function is to babysit the car, until there´s available parking. After finding the parking spot, my reward is an uninterrupted hour or so of free time to spend reading, writing my blog, or catching up on sleep. I never get uninterrupted time at home, so this is a huge perk.
I also get to see what sort of people are jamming these parking lots. I remember my college days and it occurs to me how easy it is to go off to college anywhere when you are 18. There´s that uncertainty of youth, new experiences, all that. And money of course is always a stress, as well as maintaining grades to keep what financial aid is received. But most 18 year old students are single, without children, and if they're at a four year college, chances are the stress of money is falling for the most part on their parents.
During this morning’s free time, I spent 20 minutes helping the student parked next to me rock her car back and forth, trying to get the transmission to catch, so she could go pick up her sick kid, drop her off at her mom´s, while making it back in time for her noon class. She still has a paper due for last semester that she hasn´t quite finished, which means she might not qualify to stay on financial aid. After class today, she has to go to work, and sometime this evening will be able to pick up the kid, fix dinner at home, study at some point, and tomorrow morning do it all again. There is no money for replacing transmissions, and no idea how she will get to school for classes without a car, much less get to work.
This parking lot is full of these students- people who are not 18, do not have parents to help with the bills, have children of their own to take care of, barely-running cars, mortgages and rent to pay, food to put on the table, and if they are lucky, sometimes a part-time job paying not much more than minimum wage. Many of the students had real, life-sustaining employment a couple years ago. Now they are re-inventing themselves, literally in the moment.
They are not at school for beer parties, joining sororities, or extracurricular activities. They expect the teacher to be prepared and make it worth their time and money. These are some serious students.
Our main reason for having our daughter start community college was financial. We do not want her to incur a large debt for an education that may or may not lead to employment. While I’m a product of a four year liberal arts education and I believe in the value of that experience, I don´t think it is an essential experience for this generation.
What I´m discovering is that the biggest advantage to the community college experience is not the financial savings, but the exposure to the wide variety of students.
Students that take their education seriously, and fight on a multitude of fronts to get to class everyday.