First Person: Two Generations, Same College, Different Experiences

Yahoo Contributor Network

Yahoo News, as part of its "Born Digital" series, asked students and parents to write about how college has changed over a generation. Here's one perspective.

FIRST PERSON | I'm your typical 20-year-old college student in many ways, and my experience isn't much different from that of others. I juggle getting good grades with keeping a social life, I'm constantly strapped for cash, and I have a sleep schedule that even a vampire couldn't manage.

This year is going to be my fourth and final year of college, with plans of graduating with my bachelor's of arts in philosophy at the end of the summer 2014 term. It's my fourth year in college, but my second year at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. I absolutely love it here, and I take a lot of pride in my school. At the end of the day, though, the pride award in my family would have to go to my mom, who attended the same university 40 years ago.

She often shares a lot of her memories from long ago. She remembers studying on the hill under the shade of Old Main -- a Gothic-style education building that tragically burned down in 1982. She remembers hanging out with her friends at Abbey Inn and working her first, and only, shift at Tinsley's Chicken n' Rolls (where she quickly learned fast food wasn't for her). She also remembers the infamous 1974 prison siege that took place at the Huntsville Unit, one of Huntsville's many prisons.

Four decades later, there's a lot more to do here than there was back then. It's not so much that Huntsville has grown; while it has, it's still more of a small town rather than a college town. Technology has given us more ways to work, relax, and socialize. Nowadays, I get most of my work done on my laptop in one of the study cubicles in the Newton Gresham Library. My best friend and I spend most of our time together in his dorm watching TV shows and movies on Netflix. Of course, there's not as much pressure to make new friends in college anyway. Between Skype, Facebook, and my text messaging, I still keep in frequent contact with old friends from my hometown of Port Arthur, Texas.

But one of the biggest differences between my generation and earlier ones is why college students are going at all. In 1974, my mom enrolled at Sam Houston with one main purpose: Earn her degree in sociology and become a social worker. Back then, going to college wasn't something that seemingly everyone did after high school. Many of her friends found good-paying jobs right after graduating, meaning you only went to college if you knew you needed a certain education for a certain career.

Now, about the only job opportunities you can get right out of high school are fast food and low-level retail, and both of those are minimum-wage with almost no room for promotion or a sizable pay increase. A college education has become less of an option and more of a necessity. Because of that harsh reality, there are so many students now who enter college with almost no thought as to what career they're preparing for.

College has almost become the "new high school." If you're not joining the military or already have a career lined up for you, it's assumed that you're going to continue your education.

All in all, my experience isn't much different from that of others my age, but it's certainly different from my parents' generation. My mom and I have lived and studied in a lot of the same buildings, but our experiences are two different worlds.

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