Attending college is a monumental decision that is completely and utterly life-changing. With so many factors to consider, price is generally first. Although, upper-class families may have more resources to help their kids succeed in college it does not mean lower income families are destined for failure when it comes to higher education. From my own experience and Robert Putnam’s research, there are clear reasons students either succeed or struggle in their pursuit of higher education, some of which include parent involvement, the importance of a stable environment, and self motivation. For some people, seeing the way their parents grew up or the way they grew up gives them that motivation to find the resources they need in order to succeed.
A dear friend of mine, Aja, has a situation similar to that of Sophia, from the chapter schooling. She didn’t have a strong family unit to support her, the neighborhood she grew up in was in a bad part of town with higher rates of crime. Her dad was never in her life and her two brothers never finished high school so her mother was especially hard on her to be perfect in all aspects. The family struggled with finances creating tension in Aja’s life. Aja ended up leaving public high school to go to a continuation school where she earned her GED. She currently works at a small local restaurant and has no desire to pursue a higher education anytime soon, She knows it is something she will need to do down the line but claims she needs more time to set herself up. She argues that her years in school were far too stressful and negatively impacted her. Putnam states “Parental engagement–everything from asking about homework to attending PTA meetings– is associated with higher academic performance, better socioemotional skills, and other facets of student behavior”(167). I can’t help but wonder, what if she had a stronger family unit and positive role models in her life. Similarly, Putnam describes how Sofia’s home environment took a closely related toll on her in the same aspects. I truly believe Aja’s future would have turned out entirely different if she had better circumstances, such as; having a role model to look up to for strength and guidance, had her environment at home had been less stressful and attention demanding she could have instead put that energy into her studies. Unfortunately I don’t there is anything that could salvage her relationship with her mother, Aja says there is too much resentment now. Instead of the “tough love” and the degrading actions her mother used, if they had been replaced with uplifting and reassuring ones maybe Aja would have had a sunny disposition towards life and the importance of furthering her education.
I knew this family that had three sons who grew up in a good part of town with highly involved parents. The first son partied a lot in high school and wasn’t focused on his academics. After he graduated he moved in with a relative and picked up a job at a local grocery store and showed no interest in pursuing a degree. The second son followed in his older brothers footsteps. While the third son worked hard in school and took advantage of the amenities offered, such as; free tutoring, after school programs, and meeting with counselors. He secured a full ride scholarship to a prestigious university. “Better teachers, can have a substantial effect on student success in later life…” (172-173). All three sons had the same family structure and upbringing, just different levels of motivation and drive. Sometimes seeing how others approach and handle a situation is enough to change the path of another.
At a young age, around eleven, I can recall telling my relatives I didn’t want to go to college, and it remained that way until I turned twenty. My parents weren’t overly involved in my schooling and didn’t stress me on it. My dad didn’t have any form of higher education and at one point was a manager at a grocery store before becoming a sheriff. My mom stayed at home and raised my siblings and I. I watched as my two older sisters moved out and got minimum-wage jobs, they struggled to make ends meet continuously. My dad seemed to always be a paying their; car maintenance fees, portions of rent, and helping with groceries, etc. I see the burden it puts on my dad and it pained me to see all ends of the spectrum. I especially hate seeing my mom in a loveless marriage, and hearing that she feels locked in because she can’t provide for my little brother being that she has no education. Seeing someone you love in a situation like my mothers is hard on the heart. Everyone has the right to the pursuit of happiness but she feels she doesn’t because finances get in the way. That is why I am here, I may be struggling now but I won’t be down the line. My family’s downfalls have inspired me to learn from their mistakes and invest in my future. A guest speaker in Putnam’s Schooling chapter stated, “In just one generation you can make that leap, but in one generation you can make the leap back”(141). It is important to me that I set an example for my sisters, showing that it’s never too late to further your education.
Pursuing college isn’t only for a certain group of people. You can be rich or you can have limited funds, what matters is how driven and dedicated you are. Aja had many negative impacts in her life that she now associates with school, and unfortunately it deterred her from a degree. For the third son and I, we saw those struggles and decided to do better for ourselves. We have had the same upbringing as our siblings, but we have the drive and the motivation for a better life. We have the vision for a successful career.