Education has always been important to me. But so is financial responsibility. I am a 19-year-old Latinx student from Pleasant Hill, California. In my hometown, the local middle school, high school, and college are all next to each other. Growing up, I’d look at that progression, and it was like I could see the future of my education on one block. I’ve always known I wanted to go to college. What I didn’t know, was how I was going to pay for it.
Ever since my junior year in high school I’ve been working to support myself. My parents struggle financially to support me and my three younger siblings, so I have always done my best to help out. It was hard seeing both my parents and grandparents constantly have to work in order to put me and my siblings through school. So last fall, I was thrilled when I received a financial aid package that would help me afford college.
I just finished my first year of community college. I currently receive federal student aid, a Pell grant, and the BOG Fee Waiver. These benefits are what make finishing college actually attainable for me. It’s not a free ride by any means. Even with a financial aid package, I still have to work in order to pay for books and to save up money for transferring. I hope to transfer to U.C. Berkeley in a few years. But that may not be possible if President Trump’s new budget proposal goes forward.
Last Wednesday, I watched the hearing on Trump’s proposed cuts to education as part of the proposed federal budget. Under the budget, the Pell grant is being cut by $3.9 billion, and the programs that allow me to receive free tutoring, and other financial assistance will no longer be available. I became emotional as ranking members of the house committee on appropriations argued over the necessity of education assistance. I couldn’t help but think about how I was one of those students who would be impacted the most.
I’m worried that, in order to finish school, my only option may be to drown in debt. I realize that many people have to take student loans, but for me and many other students of color, I don’t necessarily have a safety net to call on if I fall on hard times. Taking away those opportunities means that higher education may only become available to the most privileged among us. So when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says students would be better served by school choice programs than federal spending, I want to tell her she’s the one with her priorities mixed up.
I’m not even asking for a free education — just one that allows me to pursue a fiscally responsible version of the American Dream. I look at my parents, who never went to college, and how they live paycheck to paycheck. It’s not the future I want for myself. But without financial aid, I may not have a choice.