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When it came time to begin my “college search,” I found myself in a fortunate position. I wasn’t restricted to solely in-state options, though my parents encouraged me to consider them in order to save those extra thousands of dollars. Encouraged or not, the freedom to explore institutions across the country allowed me to stumble upon, and eventually attend, my dream school, Clemson University.
Clemson is a school many would be proud to attend. It is a Carnegie R1 research university, ranks 1st in the 2018 Princeton Review for students loving their college, and ranks 23rd in the U.S. News and World Report for top public national universities. In addition to academic programs, Clemson offers well over 500 organizations students can become involved in and houses numerous competitive Division I sports teams that create an exciting atmosphere. Additionally, the university has two lakes on campus and a plethora of green space—providing many opportunities for students to get away from the classroom. These accolades only begin to quantify the many factors that make Clemson a great place to develop intellectually and professionally while enjoying every minute of the college experience.
However, when my acceptance letter from Clemson came in the mail, it was accompanied with a looming hesitation about the cost of attendance. If I was not accepted into Clemson, I would have attended Virginia Tech, which came with an attractive in-state price tag of $13,620. This differed significantly from Clemson’s $36,724, making it cheaper to attend Virginia Tech for 2.5 years than 1 year at Clemson.
Almost half of college graduates pay for their education on their own and only around 10% of graduates’ families paid for the majority of their education.
With a difference of close to $100,000, most financially independent and partially independent students face a major consequence for choosing an out-of-state institution. As observed from data from LendEDU, almost half of college graduates pay for their education on their own and only around 10% of graduates’ families paid for the majority of their education. With about half of students financially responsible in full for their education, Forbes recently estimated that there are over 44 million students who owe, collectively, around $1.5 trillion in student loans—ranking it as the second highest consumer debt category. This debt has significant negative implications, whether it steers students away from out-of-state options or burdens students with long-term loan payments.
At Clemson, I have come to recognize the extensive advantages attending college out-of-state can offer a student. Moving to South Carolina was the first time I had left my hometown in Northern Virginia, an area known to be “bubbled” because of its closed-off nature to life outside of the Washington, D.C, area. Living on my own in a new environment, without my friends or family, forced me to step out of my comfort zone and has allowed me to find myself as a young adult.
In addition to being forced out of my comfort zone, moving to the city of Clemson exposed me to new ideas and issues that I would not have experienced had I stayed in my home state. From being raised in a predominantly liberal area to living in the very “red” state of South Carolina, I was presented to political viewpoints I hadn’t considered before. Prior to college, I often wrote off opinions from the other side of the political aisle because I had no way of really understanding where they were coming from. This newfound understanding has been pivotal in my approach to personal and professional conflicts created by differences of opinion—a skill that is incredibly difficult to attain, but so important in the sometimes divisive world we live in.
There is something in these hills that brings together and binds together and holds together men and women of all persuasion, of all heights, sizes, weights, and cultural backgrounds. Something that cuts across every difference, spans every gap, penetrates every wall. Something that makes a man or woman stand taller, feel better and say with high pride to all within earshot "I went to Clemson."
– A poem by Joe Sherman demonstrating what it is like to attend Clemson University.
While public institutions have an obligation to their states’ residents first, enhancing the reach of an out-of-state education would allow diversity on college campuses to occur more organically. As I found in my out-of-state experience, being among different perspectives allows students to respect a difference of opinion, become comfortable working with those with whom you don’t agree, and expand your knowledge in various subject areas through enriching intellectual diversity. This has been crucial to my intellectual growth and is an invaluable part of a college education that I feel every student should have the financial freedom to experience.
College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing 2017” shows that the cost of a post-secondary education has risen over 200%, increasing from an average of $3,190 in 1987-88 to $9,970 in 2017-18. This rise has not only pushed an out-of-state education out of reach for many, but has also made an in-state education less attainable to the everyday individual. Being part of a family with fortunate finances should not determine a student’s opportunity to learn in a different state and receive the post-secondary education that suits them best.
The exceptional social opportunities, student body, professors, perspectives, and, yes, of course college football that Clemson offers its students has provided me with a unique higher education experience. If the cost of post-secondary education were to decrease, increasing the accessibility of an out-of-state education, it would allow more students to experience many of the unique opportunities an out-of-state education can provide. As Joe Sherman’s poem explains, “there is something in these hills” in Clemson, South Carolina—it is my hope that, one day, the financial barriers preventing many across the country from out-of-state experiences will vanish, enhancing accessibility to a broader range of institutions and to the opportunities I was fortunate enough to experience at Clemson.
Caitlin Patrick was a summer intern on ACTA's What Will They Learn? project. She is currently a junior at Clemson University, majoring in Political Science and Economics.
The Wall Street Journal, Andy Kessler
The Atlantic, Joe Pinkser
Inside Higher Ed, Greg Toppo
Chronicle of Higher Education, Lindsay Ellis and Lily Jackson
Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan
Education Dive, James Paterson