Swickard: A look at college years ago

One of Michael Swickard's 1968 photos
© 2016 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.   Old folks joke about walking to school in snow, uphill both ways while their grandkids roll their eyes. But those words have some truth about the changes in a couple generations.
            Take myself: I went to college in a different world than kids today who live in the same town and attend the same college. In 1968 I packed my suitcase at my parent’s house in Alamogordo and moved to my uncle’s house in Las Cruces a mile from the New Mexico State University campus.
            My uncle allowed me a bedroom since I barely had enough money saved to pay tuition and fees and then books. There were no student loans so I paid my way through college and could because tuition and fees were about $180 a semester which adjusted to 2016 inflation is $1,200.
            Compare that to $4,400 a semester now charged at the same college and you see that loans are required.
            My possessions were a couple pair of jeans, some shirts and clothes and shoes. I had a four dollar Timex watch, a wind-up alarm clock and a 1930 Underwood #5 manual typewriter borrowed from my grandmother.
            It is no longer 1968 and college students have personal wealth items today in values I didn’t have for the first five years after I graduated and began working professionally. The only thing I didn’t have was debt which young people now have lots.
            I had the choice of going to college or having a car, my ability to earn money would not support both so I came to college on foot. The good of it was I had almost nothing for anyone to steal from me. The first couple years I lived a very small life that did not use much money.
            Luckily my father taught me photography when I was in junior high school so I had a trade to bring which allowed me to make money… typically two dollars a published picture. That was enough to keep me in school and allowed me enough to eat. But eating was another story.
            The first week I was walking to campus one Sunday afternoon to study at the library. As I walked by the Methodist student center just off campus I smell food and it smelled good. So I walked in. The campus minister, Don Murphy was standing there and asked, “Come to eat with us?”
            I replied that I didn’t have any money. He said, “Then you can wash dishes.” The food was great. They say that appetite is a great seasoning. My uncle was a bachelor and didn’t keep much food in his house.
            As I was leaving Reverend Don said, “Did you know that tomorrow the Church of Christ has a dinner, Tuesday the Presbyterians, we feed Wednesday night and the Baptists serve Spaghetti on Thursday.” He gave me a couple other leads to free food and I lived a fine life.
            Every Tuesday was Air Force ROTC which was a requirement for freshmen and sophomore men to take. I enjoyed the classes and actually enjoyed marching. They found that I was a photographer and I was appointed student photographer which meant I went to many functions.
            For a couple years I walked to and from campus once or twice a day through sunlight, dark, rain, dust and gloom of night. Not any snow that I remember but it would make a better story. Those days I had what I called the number but I didn’t share that with anyone.
            The number involved how soon I would be completely out of money and have to quit college. I got down to sixty days but never closer. Importantly, I left college without any debts.
            My graduation was a semester late since I was the first production director of KRWG-TV and helped put it on the air in February 1972. That was an unpaid position and I dropped hours to have the time which I made up to graduate the next semester.
            Yes, it is a different world for college students with computers, smart phones, designer clothes and cars along with a consuming life. Their choice, not mine. I wonder how a couple more generations will change.



Jim Simonin said...

I started in 1954 when it was still NM A&M. Luckily PSL had a cooperative education program and Dr. Gardner interviewed each student. You were required to maintain a 3.2 GPA. Lots of students attended college through this program. As I recall we students had few rights, there where no "safe spaces".

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