Tuesday, April 22, 2014

regrets 2 : I regret ever accepting a student loan or grant.

I regret ever accepting a student loan or grant.

The loans I already explained in the previous post. The grants may not be so obvious. They were after all free money. I didn't have to pay them back. It was sort of like the government was paying me to go to school. Why would I regret that?

I had scholarships for the first two years, which covered part of my expenses. I have no regrets there. I earned those by doing well in high school.

The grants I regret accepting for two reasons. The grants were given to me because I was sufficiently poor. (And my parents as well). The government gave me that money because my income, and wealth were so low. Again, that seems like a good thing. The world is better off with educated people. There is certainly something to be said for making sure every citizen has the opportunity to obtain as much education as possible.

But.There are two problems with this. First, If I were to take a job, even a low paying job, I ran the risk of losing that money. That makes for a strong incentive to not work. And while a scholarly education has value, I still believe a "hands-on" education has equal or greater value. And given the frequent requirement for experience in job applications, I would wager most employers are of the same opinion.

Second, free money tends to impact the way you think. It did me. I didn't fight for my education. I accepted my role as one among many.

Roughly a year from completing a degree in Either Computer Science or Electrical Engineering, illness forced me out of college. then I found myself in a low paying job with Student loans to repay, no degree, no job experience to speak of... Fortunately, I has plenty of year experience fiddling with computers, an excellent work ethic, and a reputation for integrity, which helped land a job as a computer technician. This brought connections that led to other job opportunities, sufficient to meet my financial obligations over time. Finally, a decade later, I had the good fortune to be able to return and complete a degree in Computer Engineering. This time I worked my full time, career job, and took classes part time. I also paid for my classes. If my grades were sufficiently high, and if I could demonstrate that the class had some value-add for my employer, they would reimburse me for much of my expense, but it fell to me to pay initially, and then meet the requirements.

That seems a subtle difference, but it made all the difference in my mindset. I, ME, I was paying the several thousand dollars for those classes, and I darn well expected to get my moneys worth. I was paying the professor to instruct me. I was HIS paying customer. and I expected to be treated accordingly. That made an enormous difference in the quality of education I derived from those classes.

I don't mean to discount the role age may have played, I was more mature, and I don't discount that changed the way professors interacted with me to some extent. But age alone did not cause that significant a shift. It was the perception shift I had as a result of having paid for the course with MY hard earned money.

If I had it to do over again. I would have taken advantage of the scholarships I had earned, then I would have found a job, worked hard, and paid for classes as I was able to afford them with MY money. I would have accumulated more experience, I would not have had to pay interest on school loans, I would have graduated debt free (and probably sooner that I did).

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