COMMENTARY: Old folks joke about walking to school in snow, uphill both ways while their grandkids roll their eyes. But those words have some truth about the changes in a couple generations.
Take myself: I went to college in a different world than kids today who live in the same town and attend the same college. In 1968 I packed my suitcase at my parent’s house in Alamogordo and moved to my uncle’s house in Las Cruces, a mile from the New Mexico State University campus.
My uncle allowed me a bedroom since I barely had enough money saved to pay tuition and fees and then books. There were no student loans so I paid my way through college, I could, because tuition and fees were about $180 a semester — which, adjusted to 2016 inflation, is $1,200.
Compare that to about $3,400 a semester now charged for in-state tuition and fees at the same college and you see that loans are required.
My possessions were a couple pair of jeans, some shirts and clothes and shoes. I had a four-dollar Timex watch, a wind-up alarm clock and a 1930 Underwood #5 manual typewriter borrowed from my grandmother.
It is no longer 1968 and college students have personal wealth items today in values I didn’t have for the first five years after I graduated and began working professionally. The only thing I didn’t have was debt, of which young people now have lots.
I had the choice of going to college or having a car. My ability to earn money would not support both so I came to college on foot. The good of it was I had almost nothing for anyone to steal from me. The first couple years I lived a very small life that did not require much money.
Luckily my father taught me photography when I was in junior high school so I had a trade to bring. That allowed me to make money… typically two dollars a published picture. That was enough to keep me in school and allowed me enough to eat. But eating was another story.
The first week I was walking to campus one Sunday afternoon to study at the library. As I walked by the Methodist student center just off campus I smelled food, and it smelled good. So I walked in. The campus minister, Don Murphy was standing there and asked, “Come to eat with us?”
I replied that I didn’t have any money. He said, “Then you can wash dishes.”
The food was great. They say that appetite is a great seasoning. My uncle was a bachelor and didn’t keep much food in his house.
As I was leaving Reverend Don said, “Did you know that tomorrow the Church of Christ has a dinner, Tuesday the Presbyterians, we feed Wednesday night and the Baptists serve Spaghetti on Thursday?” He gave me a couple other leads to free food and I lived a fine life.
Every Tuesday was Air Force ROTC, which was a requirement for freshmen and sophomore men to take. I enjoyed the classes and actually enjoyed marching. They found that I was a photographer and I was appointed student photographer, which meant I went to many functions.
For a couple years I walked to and from campus once or twice a day through sunlight, dark, rain, dust and gloom of night. Not any snow that I remember, though it would make a better story. Those days I had what I called the number, but I didn’t share that with anyone.
The number involved how soon I would be completely out of money and have to quit college. I got down to 60 days but never closer. Importantly, I left college without any debt.
My graduation was a semester late since I was the first production director of KRWG-TV and helped put it on the air in February 1972. That was an unpaid position and I dropped hours to have the time, which I made up to graduate the next semester.
Yes, it is a different world for college students with computers, smart phones, designer clothes and cars, along with a consuming life. Their choice, not mine. I wonder how a couple more generations will change.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.