By Michael Romain
Justin Guyton has a fight on his hands. The current Morehouse freshman and Proviso Math and Science Academy graduate is on a mission to raise enough money to offset the costs of attending the school of his dreams. But as he and millions of other aspiring collegians across the nation are beginning to realize—dreams are expensive.
Bruce Watson, of the website Daily Finance, writes, “For years, politicians and pundits have held forth about the high cost of higher education. Whether the issue du jour is rising tuition prices, falling returns on our educational investment, or the ballooning student debt bubble, the message has generally been the same: College is only getting harder to afford, even as it becomes more necessary.”
According to an infographic compiled by Business Insider, in 2012 the average American college graduate faced a debt of $25,250 upon entering the ‘real’ world. From 2003 to 2012, Americans experienced a 4.5 percent increase of student debt as a share of their personal income. That’s compared with relatively significant drops in credit card and automobile debt in the same time period.
But this is the bright side of the picture, which assumes that a prospective student is fortunate enough to be able to borrow at all. And borrow, she more than likely will. By one 2012 estimate, only 5.5 percent of all U.S. college graduates received any kind of scholarship money, while 66 percent took out some form of student loan. Roughly deducing from these figures, that means that nearly 30 percent of all graduates had to pay for college themselves or with the help of other funding sources, such as friends and family.
Mr. Guyton’s struggles illustrate just how hard it is residing in that latter category. “I can’t get any Pell Grants, federal grants, etc., because my parents make too much on paper,” he said.
However, as most people in the middle-class may well know, paper figures and reality are two totally different things. What the government couldn’t measure when evaluating Mr. Guyton’s aid eligibility was that his mother was working two jobs before she lost one.
Mr. Guyton himself had been compelled to put his high school education on hold for more than a year to go to work at McDonald’s. To make already trying matters worse, Mr. Guyton’s grandmother died while he was in high school, deepening the family’s financial and emotional strain.
And yet, none of these obstacles were enough to keep Mr. Guyton from aspiring to go to Morehouse, one of the most prestigious—and most expensive—liberal arts colleges in the country. He was sold, though, by more than the school’s pedigree.
“My best friend and mentor went to Spelman [the women’s college in the same vicinity as Morehouse] and she said it changed her life,” Mr. Guyton said. So prompted by his friend and the fact that one of his cousins had attended nearby Clark Atlanta, he setup a visit during Morehouse’s homecoming.
“Everybody was greeting me on campus. It felt like I was at home. It’s a community. It’s a brotherhood. And it’s not unhealthily competitive, like ‘I’m going to do better than you.’ The competition inspires and motivates your brother to do better.”
During his one semester at Morehouse, Mr. Guyton has maintained a 3.5 GPA, while majoring in Kinesiology. He also plays on the school’s football team. And when he isn’t in the classroom or on the field, he volunteers at a local soup kitchen in Atlanta.
But this upward trajectory might lose momentum if he can’t find the money to finance Morehouse’s cost of attendance, which, according to the school’s most recent tuition and fees schedule, may range somewhere between nearly $26,000 to more than $40,000, depending on certain variables (see the chart below).
Loans or no loans, though, Mr. Guyton is determined to do what it takes to realize his dream. He continues to work at McDonald’s during extended breaks from school and has even launched a full fundraising campaign, replete with business cards, a webpage and a slew of restaurant and online fundraisers. He even sat in the college’s financial aid office for more than 20 hours over three days before they finally relented and gave him $1,900.
“I’ve applied for many, many scholarships through fastweb.com, scholarshipexperts.com, the ultimate scholarship book 2013 edition,” Mr. Guyton said. He plans on raising his GPA to 3.7 this upcoming semester so that he may qualify for a full scholarship given by Morehouse every year to students with exceptional academic records.
“I’m going to keep going,” Mr. Guyton said, sounding like an exhausted, but unbowed prizefighter. “I’m in the process of developing a nonprofit organization geared towards scholarship and mentoring.” He might include persistence and resilience and determination. After all that he’s had to go through outside of the classroom, he’ll have mastered those subjects enough to teach a course. VFP