Opinion - Having HOPE doesn't mean students are lazy

Today's college kids don't need mean-spirited insults

When I graduate this summer from Georgia State University, I know I'll be entering a world radically different from when I started there in 2007. The recession has packed many wallops, but it has hit young people particularly hard, from the increased costs of college tuition and fees to the youth unemployment rate, which stands at about 20 percent.

Older folks should understand that the changing world means things aren't the same as when they were in college. There have been times when the rhetoric about young people has been poisonous. As the Legislature debated tightening the requirements for a full-ride HOPE scholarship, people who presumably didn't benefit from it took to Internet sounding boards to portray HOPE beneficiaries like me as lazy and undeserving. Back in their day, they didn't rely on any gol-durned government handouts; they worked their way through school! (You'd think Pell grants, Stafford loans and other forms of aid were born in the 1990s, not the 1960s.)

I applaud those who worked during school. My mother was one of them, waiting tables to get through Miami University in the early '70s. However, it's a very difficult feat to accomplish today. While college campuses can be hotbeds of hiring, these jobs generally don't pay enough to cover school costs unless you work insane hours and never go to class. And students can try to get jobs outside of school, but it's a tight market and they're often competing with throngs of other applicants with more experience.

Then there's the issue of tuition itself. College costs are an example of disproportional inflation. Between 1978 and 2008, while the cost of living increased about twofold, the general cost of tuition and fees increased tenfold. Yes, tenfold.

I was blessed to get HOPE on the long-gone "fixed for four" plan, meaning my tuition never increased — but supplemental fees certainly did. Georgia State hiked its school-specific student fees, in large part to help pay for the new football program, starting in 2008. The state added its own fees in 2009. These started at $100 a semester for research institutions like Georgia State and have never been covered by HOPE. They increased to $200 in 2010 and reportedly will jump to $450 a semester next year. For many students, trying to balance their accounts will now involve even more secondary funding.

Those who came after "fixed for four" feel the pinch even harder: GSU's tuition next fall will be more than $3,500 a semester. This reflects an increase of more than $100 from a year ago. (By contrast, my "fixed for four" plan locked the tuition cost in at the 2007 rate of $2,248.)

The idea that people who use government sources for aid are somehow lesser than people whose life choices and privileges gave them the ability to go without government help must end. Not everyone has the exact same opportunities as everyone else. The old adage about walking a mile in someone else's shoes applies here.

The meme that my generation is shameful, lazy and shiftless needs to stop, too. The preceding generations must understand that today's world is not the one they inhabited at our age. Things cost more, opportunities are not as plentiful and it can be harder to shift into independent adulthood. We're all trying, but we're navigating some pretty choppy waters. We would truly appreciate a little less judgment and a little more support.

Emma Harger is a CL news intern

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