America prides itself on its unlimited opportunity. So why are fewer and fewer young people able to attend college, find jobs and reach the middle-class promised land?
Renee, a white 26-year-old, grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her parents wanted nothing more than to send her to a four-year college when she graduated from high school, but unfortunately, it was priced out of reach. Instead, Renee began taking business classes at a nearby community college that specialized in business training and got a full-time job. She worked during the day and took classes at night.
Some time later, Renee accepted a new job at a nearby printing company. A nice increase in pay was the upside; working the midnight shift was the considerable downside. Suddenly, balancing school and work became a lot more difficult. Renee would work until 8 A.M., sleep in the afternoon, and go to school at night. Eventually, racked with exhaustion, financially stressed out, and supporting an unemployed boyfriend, Renee dropped out of school. Money played a big role in her decision. She had already taken out student loans and burned through a small inheritance from her grandfather. Already $4,500 in the hole with student loans, Renee didn't want to sink any further into debt.
It is now four years later and Renee is still making loan payments. She anticipates it will take at least eight or nine more years to clear the debt. Today, Renee works as a legal secretary, earning $28,000 a year, which must support both her and her son. In the hopes of boosting her earnings potential, Renee has re-enrolled in school, taking correspondence classes with the aim of becoming a paralegal.
When I asked Renee if she wished she could have done anything differently up to this point in her life, she didn't hesitate with her answer: "Number one, I would have finished college. I would have actually gone to a four-year college and had a real degree."
Renee is not alone. This is the story of downscaled dreams.
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