Earning your education

Cali Hunter

Many candidates gained support from millennials this past election season when they made “free college” one of their campaign platforms. Sure, “free college” is an attractive notion but it is a complicated proposal that would cost a lot of money and time to make it a reality. At this point it’s just not feasible for our country’s economic state.

So, with “free college” not happening any time in the near future—although it is a distant possibility—how can one ease the financial burdens of student loans and tuition fees?

I, like many students here at NMU and around the country, struggle every day with the cost of attending a four-year university. There were times when I’d have holds put onto my student account because of an unpaid bill, resulting in the filling-up of classes I had needed to take that semester.

My father even took a job hundreds of miles away from my mother on the oil fields in North Dakota to help pay for mine and my brother’s schooling. It temporarily eased the relentless payments, which sometimes were in excess of $1,000 for one month of school. However, the job didn’t last long, thanks to the ever-fluctuating oil market.

I needed more than just a part-time retail job to help my parents out with my school payments. I was taking upwards of 18 credits during my first two years of school so a second job was out of the question. I looked into numerous scholarships, but there were hardly any for journalism majors; most of them were geared towards science and laboratory research or they were specifically for graduate students.

I lived in Hunt Hall my sophomore year and drove past the armory on Lincoln Street nearly every day. One day in October a large white banner with bold, blocky red letters caught my eye. It read, “WANT FREE COLLEGE? FIND OUT HOW!,”and listed in smaller black letters promises of “student loan repayment” and “$10,000 signing bonuses.” Intrigued, I set up a meeting with a recruiter. Two hours into the meeting, I knew I wanted to join the Army National Guard.

After stacks of paperwork and grueling physical and written tests at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), I took the oath to serve my country. I set out for basic training and my military occupation specialty training on May 23, 2016 en route to hot and humid Fort Leonard
Wood, Missouri.

It was brutal; four months of early days and late nights, drill sergeants screaming in my face nearly every day and no access to the outside world besides handwritten letters I received from family and friends. Making people in my life proud and becoming a real U.S. soldier was what pushed me the most but the idea of “free college” helped motivate me, too.

It feels as though a weight has been lifted; student loans and tuition payments are now obsolete. Knowing that I earned these benefits, through 16 weeks of sweat, blood, tears (and numerous sunburns—thanks Missouri) is a good feeling. I wanted to go through school debt-free, so I was proactive and made it happen.

Not everyone is physically or mentally able to just get up and join the military. That’s why there are other ways to serve your country, like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. The Peace Corps offers deferment and cancellation of student loans. AmeriCorps offers an education award, which is used to pay loans or tuition bills. Both are great ways to serve people and the country, and there’s no military obligation. They offer other benefits like healthcare and help with living expenses, too.

If you do decide to earn free college through the military, joining the National Guard or the Army Reserve allows you to go to school and serve simultaneously. It simply requires one weekend of service per month and two weeks out of the summer for annual
training.

Free college is possible, though it’s not easy. If you’re someone who was awarded scholarships, or you have enough money to pay for outright, that’s awesome. If you’re not one of those people, asking for handouts just won’t cut it. In addition, serving your country is a great honor and I bet it will make you a better person. So, what are you waiting for? Turn off the laptop, put down the smartphone, get out there and earn it.