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The average cost of public, in-state college has reached $10,423 per year and is increasing at a rate of over 7 percent annually. Undergraduate enrollment continues to decline, with many students citing cost of enrollment as the reason for their decision to delay or forego higher education.
Dr. Cimone Wright-Hamor is working to shift the mindset of those considering college.
“The days of getting a degree and being guaranteed a job are over. My goal is to show that college is a business, and that the goal isn’t necessarily the degree. If you approach college as a consumer, you are losing the game.”
“When I learned to do the business of college, I flipped it to my advantage. They are a business, and you can operate as a business would as well. It only works if you break even or come out ahead.”
With this mission, Dr. Wright-Hamor obtained her Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate in Computer Engineering with no student loan debt. As one of the hopefuls anxiously watching my email for updates about the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program currently in litigation, Dr. Wright-Hamor’s perspective piqued my interest. So how did she do it?
“I applied for the FAFSA, and I also applied for scholarships. Most people don’t know that you can negotiate your tuition — if a university has reason to believe you will have a promising career, or if you have family already engaged in a successful career in your field of study, they are inclined to discount your tuition.
A lot of students also don’t know that scholarships are a numbers game. Credit Unions, foundations, the schools themselves, alumni associations — Alumni associations give every single month! It’s very rare that a student will call and just ask what is available. I did that every month. When you treat applying for scholarships like a job, it becomes a system that churns out money for you.”
Rather than seeking large scholarships, Dr. Wright-Hamor sought out small, local scholarships that she was more likely to receive. When she was awarded more scholarship dollars than her FAFSA determined she would actually need, she called the organization giving those funds and asked them to hold it over until the next year to avoid losing federal student funding.
“I lived off of my internships, and room and board was paid. When I received the reimbursement checks from student aid, I invested them in real estate. By the time I graduated I had amassed half a million dollars in real estate.”
Dr. Wright-Hamor describes 3 pillars as the foundation for her method of engaging with higher education: General knowledge, resources, and network. In her upcoming book, Manufactured Education: How to get a Bachelor’s Without Selling Your Soul, she encourages those considering college to leverage these 3 pillars to accelerate your career.
How did you develop this approach?
“My first semester in college I had a meal plan that conflicted with my schedule. I couldn't eat or I would have to miss class or ROTC. At the end of the semester, on paper I still had half of my meals left. I should have gotten $3,000 back, but the food services department showed me a no reimbursement clause. There was no rollover, it was just gone!
That’s what showed me college was a business.”
You are very disciplined and methodical. Is that innate? Have you always been a high achiever?
“I am a recovering underachiever. I failed every class except math through the 6th grade. I had a mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program named Cathy Savage who offered to pay me $20 for every A on my next report card, and I went from straight Fs to straight As. I didn’t know I was dyslexic, didn’t even know dyslexia existed. She taught me a reading technique, and paid for me to take additional classes at EduCare. We have stayed in touch — I just spoke with her last week.”
In addition to her upcoming literary debut, Dr. Wright-Hamor is spreading her message through speaking engagements. Her goal with these talks?
“To help people understand that sometimes businesses evolve around you in a way that makes them not feel like a business anymore. A university has a president instead of a CEO, departments instead of divisions, colleges instead of product lines — but the structure is the same. Unfortunately, consumers are less concerned about the money because it doesn’t feel like a business so the threat is gone.”
Higher education is one of the largest financial and time investments we make — or don’t. A common refrain prospective students hear time and again is “Just get enrolled and you can figure out what you want to do when you get there.” However, that doesn’t offer much encouragement to employ strategy. I have never heard a similar perspective when buying a home (and there are certainly homes that can be purchased for less than my college education cost.)
As the world evolves, some of our lay beliefs about the function of higher education may be due for review. There is value in an educated populace — we have massive challenges to face as a collective, and an uninformed majority making decisions for everyone can have nightmarish consequences. (Climate change comes to mind. Vaccinations, too. A bizarre fear of 5G cell service and mind control.) Overall, people tend to leave college more well-rounded and prepared for community engagement than they arrived.
That said, when I check those student loan balances … some strategy around leveraging the college experience for career acceleration probably would have done me a world of good.
To learn more about Dr. Cimone Wright, visit cimonespeaks.com
To support Big Brothers Big Sisters, visit https://www.bigcr.org/
Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com
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