BY KIRA HARADA-STONE
Chris,* 20 was studying psychology at Colorado State University when his parents told him they could no longer afford it. After he left his dream school and enrolled in the University of Hawaii, where his parents could afford in-state tuition, Chris lost all motivation and stopped attending classes. Soon after, he was suspended for a semester due to his poor grades and forced to move out of the dorm and back home. Chris now has a part-time busboy job to help his parents pay for his tuition once he returns to school next semester. “My parents were breaking their backs trying to pay for my tuition,” said Chris. “I’m trying to save up $5,000 to help them with my tuition at UH. It doesn’t feel like a burden on me, it just makes sense. It’s me going to school, not them.”
Chris’s story may seem familiar because he’s a millennial stereotype. He’s unmotivated and living back at home like 21.6 million other millennials according to the Pew Research Center. However, these stereotypes assume that the millennials chose to put themselves in that situation, rather than being forced into it by financial circumstances.
The term “millennial” refers to the generation born between 1981 and 1996. Why is it that millennial trends often relate only to a middle- to upper-middle class white demographic? The idea of the lazy, jobless millennial who is staying in his parents’ basement assumes that said parents have the financial stability to support their adult child.
So who are these ignored millennials? They are the working class young people at a social and economic disadvantage because they do not have the parental security blanket they need to attend college. In reality, only 35 percent of millennials in a Bank of America/ USA TODAY national survey claimed to receive any form of financial support from their parents. So what ends up happening to them?
Aaron,* an aspiring engineering student, never received any help from his family when it came to school. “My dad has always told me that school is a waste of time,” said Aaron. “He raised a family and built a house with only an eighth grade education. The only guidance he’s ever given me is that I always need to have a job. I can never go more than three months without one.” After finishing high school, Aaron was accepted into Tennessee Technological University, where he planned to earn a mechanical engineering degree. However, he was unable to find a scholarship to help him pay the $16,000 in-state tuition and was forced to decline his acceptance. He decided to attend North East State Community College, a small community college located in east Tennessee with the help of his Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Towards the end of the semester he ended up losing his part-time job at McDonald’s and was often unable to afford the gas money to commute to school and missed classes. That led to him being placed on academic suspension. When he re-enrolled in the fall, he could no longer receive financial aid because of his suspension. At 25, Aaron has just one year completed at the community college he has been attending since 2011, making him one in the 31 million Americans who have earned some college credits, but never finished school.
After attending a competitive college preparatory school in Hawaii, Ashley* had big plans. She had been accepted into several universities including Oregon State, Colorado State and Evergreen State, but after dealing with some family drama she was kicked out of her house at 18 and her plans needed to change. “It was a huge reality check for me,” said Ashley. “When it came to actually paying for school, I realized that I had no money and no family.” The scholarships Ashley did manage to find required that she also take out large student loans. So, she decided to attend Hawaii Community College, where she could afford to pay tuition with her waitressing job and the help of a small scholarship awarded by her high school. However, like Chris, she felt unmotivated being at a school she never planned to attend and eventually chose to take a break. Though Ashley is still unsure what she wants to study, she knew she was unhappy spending all of her time on the core classes the community college allowed her to take. “School is something you have to do want to do,” said Ashley. “I didn’t want to have to pay for something I didn’t want to do. I honestly didn’t think it was worth it.”
While Chris, Ashley and Aaron all plan to return to school, the statistics show that it is unlikely that they will ever graduate. In a recent NBC article, writer Nona Aronowitz cites a study done by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center which found that only one third of students who re-enrolled in school after leaving actually graduated. “For some people going to school may actually have an adverse effect,” said Aronowitz in a phone interview. “A lot of these millennials who leave school also have loans, but [by leaving] they forfeit the earning power that they would have had with a college degree. Loans create an extra financial burden that they wouldn’t otherwise have if they hadn’t attempted to go to school. It’s a double whammy that makes launching into adulthood extremely difficult.”
With these odds against them it should come as shocking that the media has a relatively unsympathetic view towards millennials. However it is only because the media often ignores the existence of working class millennials. “People like to complain about the youngest generation,” said Jennifer Silva author of “Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty in a phone interview. “When we see these younger kids delaying adulthood it becomes fodder for the media, rather than looking beyond that image at the economy.” Silva believes that working class millennials are not given a fair chance. “Two generations ago you could leave high school and find a job to support your family without a college degree. Now everyone knows that they need to go to college, but the education system has gotten very complicated. We’re a society that upholds equal opportunity, but this is obviously an example where equal opportunity is not happening.”