I never worried about paying for college. As an upper-middle class individual, it never crossed my mind that I would not be able to go to college because of financial factors outside my control. Until I got to college, I honestly did not know that people just like me in nearly every way — except financially — had to sacrifice higher education because they could not afford it.
Unfortunately, this is the reality for many aspiring students across Mississippi. Thousands of students are deprived of the basic tools they need to pursue higher education, and it is not by accident.
There are three things one needs in order to attend and graduate college: a high school degree, an acceptance letter and the successful completion of the courses required for a program. It sounds simple enough, but has been made systematically challenging. Mississippi must take steps to remove barriers to higher education if it ever wants to achieve anything above last place.
Education is known as the great equalizer for a reason. It is through education that Missississippi could move forward into a new, mobile and progressive era that would improve the lives of everyone in the state. A more educated society is better suited to have greater economic development, productive conversations and respect for one’s neighbor. This opportunity has become a necessity in today’s world and should be a priority in the Mississippi legislature.
But, this ideal is not achievable if it is not prioritized by the masses and by the state government.
Before someone can graduate college, they must first receive a high school education. But it isn’t just about a diploma — in order to be successful they need to have received a quality education. A sufficient education can only be provided if it is properly funded. Mississippi spends more than $33,000 less per student throughout their k-12 public education than the U.S. average ($137,467), according to the US Department of Education. Students in underfunded schools around the state lack access to updated textbooks, air conditioning and enough qualified teachers. How can students at under-funded schools be expected to perform at the same rate as their peers attending public schools in affluent areas such as Madison, Oxford or Ocean Springs?
The second obstacle one must achieve before graduating college is to get accepted to a university in the first place. This is a process that should be easily accessible but isn’t. A student must pay for standardized tests ($52 for the ACT), application fees ($40 on average) and any other additional deposits or fees a university requires. Once they are admitted, however, the real burden arrives.
The average cost of attendance in Mississippi is $25,426 per year or over $100,000 over the course of a degree.
I have heard many stories of my peers having to forgo a meal because they couldn’t afford it or forgo a shower and lights in their apartment because they couldn’t pay rent that month.
The state motto of Mississippi is “by valor and arms.” Wouldn’t it be the brave thing — the valiant thing — for Mississippi to allow education and opportunity to extend to be fully accessible to a whole new socioeconomic group which has never before been allotted this opportunity?
Abby Sonnier is a junior public policy leadership major from Lake Charles, Louisiana.