Civic work could empower student potential

by Staff

By Patrick Glendening, Staff Columnist

Here in the U.S. we are told that ambition is the key to success. Our capitalist economy relies on competition to drive it forward beneath the claim that only the most hardworking and driven people will come out on top.

Although I’ve had moments of doubting this simple equation for achievement, not until a recent conversation have I felt completely assured of the vast amount of contingencies involved with competitive success. A peer of mine told me about an old friend of his who recently paid a minimum $1,000 just to apply for medical school. Granted, the prospective medical student did apply to multiple schools and sent out secondary applications, which certainly contributed to this high price of fees.

Even so, it was clear that he wouldn’t have even been able to pay for the applications process if his parents hadn’t helped — he was unemployed and had no intentions of taking out any loans.

How do ambition and competition really factor into the paths to professional success if some students are able to devote all their free time to studying for entrance exams and perfecting applications, while others squeeze these necessities in during lunch breaks at their jobs? Students from wealthy families gain the simple upper hand of time when they don’t have to work, allowing the 20 to 30 or so hours they would spend at their jobs every week to dedicate to propelling their careers.

Even after entering a professional school, it may be necessary for students with loans to keep a part-time job, just to keep down the cost of interest. According to the American Medical Association, $156,456 is the average amount of debt accumulated by medical students who graduated last year. This price alone may be enough to deter students from medical school, especially those paying their own way.

I don’t intend to propose some sort of Robin Hood “steal from the rich, give to the poor” solution, and of course the existence of wealthy families isn’t the core issue. The system and requirements for attending high-cost post undergraduate universities need to change.

One way to balance the scales would be to implement a government-backed program, similar to the ROTC, which would help students pursue high-cost career paths. In exchange for partial or fully paid tuition, students would agree to work for a set number of years after graduation in a government office or hospital. This program would allow the most ambitious students, who may be tied down by a part-time job, to focus solely on advancing their careers in law or medicine.

As the system stands now, the high price of medical or law school turns the professions into money making schemes, driving students to outweigh the costs and profits of pursuing a career in medicine or law rather than consider the benefits these vocations can offer their communities.

Creating alternative ways to attend medical or law school would allow students to consider these career paths without the overbearing existence of outstanding debt. Rather than focus on the highest paying jobs within medicine and law, students would be free to pursue any career within their respected fields.

Ambition should decide where an individual ends up in life, not the ambitions of their family members. Something needs to be done to level the playing field for our most intelligent and dedicated scholars.

In especially hard economic times, too many bright minds that should be on the road to success are being left behind because of a lack of funds. By removing or dampening the importance of money in some of our society’s most respected career paths, we will fill our emergency rooms and law offices with the most talented and ambitious students, not just the wealthiest.

—Patrick Glendening is a philosophy and political science senior.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.