I’m a first-generation college student from the working class. I’m in my mid-30s. I’ve been struggling to obtain an education while working full time to support myself for over 10 years. The pursuit of education has often been at odds with my health needs, and I’ve found myself having to make hard decisions between my health and my education because of the lack of resources available to me.
I often hear of the extraordinary and inspirational stories of people who come from similar backgrounds as mine, overcoming adversity to go on to get degrees and become doctors, lawyers, politicians even, but those stories are shared because of their rarity. They are the exception and not the rule.
The stories that we don’t hear are the ones about any of the 89% of low-income first-generation college students that are still working on their degrees six years after they started school. I wasn’t able to find any verifiable statistics regarding how many go on to eventually receive their diploma. I assume that it is because there is no legitimate way to obtain such numbers. If the other students are anything like me, they will stubbornly pursue it until they die.
Growing up in America, we are told that we all have an equal opportunity, but my experiences have taught me that those opportunities are only available once you are able to gain access to them through the paywall. It is a discouraging and demoralizing reality for countless citizens struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families.
I would like to ask the vice presidential candidates what their administrations are planning to do to not only encourage working-class and lower-income citizens to obtain an education, but if they have any plans to give them a leg up‚ to help put them on a more equal footing with their peers from more affluent, traditionally educated backgrounds.
Liz Moore is a student at the University of Utah. This was the winning essay in the university undergraduate category of a statewide contest sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission.
Editor’s note • In anticipation of Wednesday’s historic vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, the Utah Debate Commission worked with the Utah State Board of Education and business partner Lucid Software to create a curriculum for all K-12 students and held a statewide essay contest. More than 700 students from kindergarten to college submitted 300-word essays answering the question: “If you could ask the vice presidential candidates one question, what would you ask and why?” The essays were judged by the Utah Debate Commission and volunteers from the University of Utah and teachers throughout the state. They are being published with minimal editing.