The Many Costs of American Education: An Interview with Working Class, Non-Traditional Student Gary Manning

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The cost of education, at even a community college, is on pace to put it well out of reach of many in just a decade.

Gary Manning is a non-traditional student attending a community college in Alabama. We sat down with him to discuss the intersection of the rising cost of college education and increasing numbers of students, traditional and non, returning to school to better their prospects in a job market we’re told is booming. This has forced, as Gary highlights, many  of his fellow students to work multiple service jobs while going to school, diminishing their academic performance and livelihood.

Tell us about yourself, where you are from, and a little bit about your background in the working field?

Hi! My name is Gary Manning, I am 61 years old originally from Georgia north of Atlanta. I have wondered around a little bit, lived in Montana for a few years and then North Carolina for a short time as well as living in Oklahoma for almost ten years until finally moving to Alabama because it was almost all the way home. My last job was working for Halliburton energy services where I did several jobs at their manufacturing center  in Duncan Oklahoma. An interesting thing was the well that blew up out in the Gulf of Mexico, I was testing those values so I had Feds out there asking me about how those were tested. I wasn’t working on the exact value that blew up but…that was BP’s fault anyway! Other than that, over the years I’ve done a lot of different things I owned a pest control company in Georgia for while and drove a truck for a while…anything that paid the bills.

What are some of the difficulties balancing work and school?

That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been so late about starting school. Many of the jobs I’ve had have been very physically demanding and left no room for any extracurricular activities but since the state of Alabama pays my tuition I was able to start attending class.

Can you elaborate more on how you acquire your financial aid?

I visited the advising office here at this institution and the lady who worked here told me that the state of Alabama pays for students over 60…why they do that? I don’t know it should be anybody over the age of 16, not 60…but that’s a different story.

Do you have a family, if so how do you meet the responsibilities of providing for them as well as meeting the responsibilities as a student?

Luckily I don’t have a family to deal with, I have a wife and a Chihuahua…but I know many people around here, younger people that have families who I have a lot of respect for that are working, taking care of kids and going to school and I really admire that because I was never able to do that. I couldn’t have even imagined it back when I had kids at home! It’s just too much to think someone would even have to be put in that position in the first place. In fact, I know one young lady in particular who has three kids, In my opinion she is too young to have kids but she has them and works two jobs as well as going to class regularly so I don’t see here anymore. Hopefully her family is helping her out. If I was in that situation, I would have to be close enough to family.

What is your opinion on the cost of tuition and how it affected your choice to pursue an education?

My feelings on the cost of education are the same as a lot of other people. It seems almost as an “elite” thing to be able to go to a community college it seems because the cost is so high. I know a lot of these other students and kids are struggling, I see it all the time…they are leaving here then going to work. One person I meet goes to class here full time and then leaving and going to work at night… so I can imagine how that must be like. This county should be placing more emphasis on education. Why would you not want your people smart? Now this push towards STEM programs (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is good thing but it’s just building robots. As far as myself is considered, the federal assistance is great but there needs to be a lot more of it and the senior program that they have in the state of Alabama is also very beneficial but it isn’t available everywhere which is big part of the reason why I decided to come back to school. The costs are so prohibitive… I’m on disability and if I didn’t have that assistance there is absolutely no way I could go back to school. Our country complains about business prospects and trade deficits in other countries like China and Japan but we don’t educate our people. I’ve noticed in several science magazines and emails I get daily and whenever they come out with something big it’s always a foreign sounding name. I’m not trying to imply racism here but we should have more people from here that are able to make these this discoveries.. It’s usually always somebody from Germany.

What is your opinion on free tuition? And do you desire public and free education?

Absolutely! I’m one of those who is of the opinion that if you spend money on education you don’t have to build all these prisons. Educated assist with with population control and don’t run into the issues were you have to go out and steal to pay for..whatever, simply because they don’t have the money to do afford it. There needs to be a lot more equality in the way of opportunities in education then the way they do it now…It’s wrong they way they do it now. The states would do well if they spent a little less money on prisons and little more money on schools. As a matter of fact, the Governor that just left this state recently (Robert J. Bentley) did just that for two years in a row. He took money from the education fund and put it into prisons…and I just don’t get that. The one now, Kay Ivey, even she doesn’t seem to have much interest in schools but they still claim that they do, but…follow the money. It’s just ridiculous. I appreciate they have the senior program but they should have it for everybody. It would make more sense for me to have to pay and you (younger people) not to have to pay..what I’m I gonna do at 61 years old with a degree? Because for one thing i’m going to have to compete with you for job which is joke… rationally, its a joke. I just don’t get it.           



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