I’m twenty years old, but I’ve never paid my own rent. I’ve never had to support myself from paychecks I’ve earned through my own blood, toil, tears and sweat. So, if I can’t find a job after college, I might have to move back to my parent’s house – another victim of the much-discussed “prolonged adolescence.”
And I’m not alone among my peers attending prestigious academic institutions. Because that $50,000 per year bill is just too steep to earn over the course of the year, we are dependent on our parents to pay for our tuition, room and board. Even with generous financial aid, the $3,000 or so I could earn in a summer of scooping ice cream and the $3,000 I make on-campus would barely make a dent in my total bill. So my peers and I don’t even bother trying – mom and dad pay the whole bill.
What this means is that we aren’t supporting ourselves. Past generations – in addition to attending class – worked two jobs, scrimped and saved, and ate canned beans for dinner every night in order to pay the rent.
So for those past generations, when summer or graduation rolled around, it was easy to stick around the college town: same routine as always, except without going to class. Survival without a “career” was never in question, since they could always support a frugal lifestyle busing tables or tutoring kids.
But we don’t have that option, since our summers are spent at internships and our rent is always paid by someone else. We were supposed to be independent at age 18, but when we’re thrown into the deep end at age 22, we still don’t know how to be independent.
We could take responsibility for our lack of independence, but we won’t. The traditional avenue of upper-middle-class transition from adolescence to adulthood – self-sufficiency during college – is blocked by the high cost of attending college. In cushier economic times, recent college graduates could learn to live independently while working their first job. Now? Even seemingly-ever-in-demand economics majors cannot find jobs.
So we all move back in with our parents. It’s a fundamentally upper-middle-class issue – who else supports their kids through an expensive university? If we could support ourselves in college, when it isn’t feasible to live at home, we would learn to be independent. But this won’t happen until colleges and universities stop their “arms race” of providing spa-like amenities by raising tuition on the wealthiest parents – the first casualty is their students’ independence.
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