Florida’s Republican lawmakers want to decrease the amount of financial aid state colleges give to students whose degrees are less likely “result in a job after graduation.” Introduced by Senator Dennis Baxley (R), Senate Bill 86 would mandate that the Florida Board of Governors and the State Board of Education “approve a list of career certificates, undergraduate and graduate degree programs that lead directly to employment,” to be updated yearly. Students whose programs are not the list would receive less financial aid, a maximum of 60 credit hours, even though most bachelor’s degrees require at least 120 credit hours.
As I read about SB86 in the Tampa Bay Times, my heart sank. I am a double major in Creative Writing and History who is able to attend college because of the financial aid I receive from Florida State University and the Florida Bright Futures Program. I know full well that I am exactly the kind of student SB86 targets.
I have been professing my desire to be a writer since my preteen days. I have years of experience fielding unsolicited questions and comments from adults purporting to be concerned about my chosen career. I have heard every hackneyed joke about how I’m destined to end up flipping burgers at McDonald’s (a frankly clasist remark) or should start looking for a rich husband. Baxley and these people seem to share an understanding of individual value and success as being determined by how much money a person can make. I would argue that they are completely missing the purpose of college.
College is not a vocational school or a training program. Its purpose is not to hook students up with a job or convert degrees into money making machines. Its purpose is to provide a place where students can learn about themselves, about the subjects which they are passionate about and subjects they had no idea they could be passionate about, about the vast world that lies beyond the boundaries of their own personal experiences.
Unfortunately, as college degrees have become a prerequisite to seek employment in most industries, the price of a college education has increased, and more and more college graduates are saddled with thousands of dollars in student loan debt, the pressure for graduates to get high-paying jobs right out of college has understandably escalated.
Along with this material reality, the context of our capitalist society is also at play in how we think of college’s purpose. In a world where profit is our first priority, being able to make money is demanded as a prerequisite for people to be considered valuable members of society. This is evident in Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson’s (R) argument that “all too often the debate surrounding higher education focuses on the cost to the student, in terms of tuition and fees, but never the cost to the taxpayer or the actual value to the student.”
Wilton’s idea of a degree’s “value” to a student is all about the money it will make them. The condescending implication is that students (like myself) who don’t choose degrees that are thought to automatically result in jobs are selfish, foolish, and frivolous, wasting time and taxpayer money. If a citizen cannot make money, this worldview suggests, then the state has no obligation to take care of them — including helping with their education.
I am grateful to be receiving an education at FSU, grateful to be receiving financial aid, and I hope to use the education I receive to give back to my community. However, I resent the implication that the only purpose my peers and I can serve is to go through college, memorize a bunch of information and skills, then go make a bunch of money.
I believe that Americans deserve a college education because they are human beings, not because they are planning on attaining some certain income level after they graduate. SB86 is a cruel attempt to rip away opportunities from Florida’s less financially fortunate students and is yet another example of how, under capitalism, lawmakers attempt to quantify and monetize the value of human life.