In just ten years, my daughter will be (hopefully) headed to college. It's something we want and expect for her, as my husband and I both have university degrees. Actually, my mother and I both have a master's degree, and my father and Claus both have a bachelor's degree.
I remember university being expensive when I was 18, but it sure is heart-stopping now. A November 2015 TIME magazine article found four years of private college with room and board costs, on average, $176,000. By contrast, it says four years of public college is $38,000.
The concept of paying for university is, well, foreign to my husband, a Danish national. The government of Denmark pays for all citizens' education, even advanced degrees.
This is actually why one of his compatriots is moving away from Hawaii this summer and back to Denmark with his family. It's a similar setup as us: Danish husband (Keld Christensen), American wife (Sandy), dual citizenship children (Viggo, Danika). Keld is tired of paying for private high schools and balks at the idea of paying for eight more years for his children's college education.
The Christensens. Courtesy: Sandy Christensen
(You can follow their adventures in Denmark at Sandy's blog, https://familienchristensen.wordpress.com/)
I would love for Olivia to have the quintessential university experience romanticized by movies in which a young adult goes off to college out of his or her home state, enjoys a personal journey towards adulthood and independence, and is able to forge lasting friendships and memories. I think of The Social Network and Legally Blonde.
I left home at a young age and lived in other states, and know the satisfaction of evolution beyond comfortable boundaries. I appreciate how that's shaped me into the person I am today. I would like Olivia to have a broader world view.
But will it be affordable? With more Americans suffocating under crushing student loans, and the current crop of politicians once again bringing education reform to the fore, I wonder if the educational entitlement of my generation is shifting into past tense.
When I was in high school, it was cool to think about going away for college and having some freedom from one's parents. I wonder if many in Olivia's generation will have a different vision of college: simply being able to pay for it; gratitude if they can get through four years of public university without repaying loans until their middle ages.
(By the way, Claus adds, this dream of college as a defining moment is uniquely American, because in liberal Denmark, a lot of that wild and crazy stuff is done in high school. "By the time people go to university in Denmark, people are very serious students. It's competitive to get in even though it's free, and the master's degree is generally the norm, not just a bachelor's." It's very possible we might move to Denmark before the decade is up.)
With this in mind, coupled with that fact that I am, admittedly, deeply attached to my little girl, I suggested to her she stay here in Hawaii and attend UH Manoa. That way, I cajoled, you can see Mommy all the time. (I only half mean this. The other half of me wants her to spread her wings.)
"Unless you do something amazing and get into Harvard University," I said. "Then Mommy and Daddy will pay out the nose for you." I'll probably have to sell a few organs. I'd sell some eggs, too, if I had any left, which I won't.
"Where is Harvard?" she inquired.
"Far, far away, on the East Coast," I answered.
I really thought that would be a deterrent. Right now, she misses me when she sleeps at any friend's house which is more than five miles away from home. Her separation anxiety is proportional to the distance from me.
Imagine my surprise when she exclaimed, "OOH! Yeah! I'm in!"
I silently pouted, though my husband knows me all too well. "It's OK. We will go up there all the time. Monthly," he chuckled.
"Olivia, I could buy you a car if you want to stay home and go to UH," I bribed.
"YEAH! A car? Can it be a red one?" she asked.
"Sure!" I said, and looked smugly at Claus.
"Way to negotiate with an eight year old," he congratulated.
Empty nest and empty bank account. What a downer. Think happy thoughts: She's cute and she's all mine for another decade.