Friday, March 13, 2009

College Life

How High Is Your Debt?
By Sydney Zarp

(For legal reasons, the sources for this article requested to use only their first names)

Before entering college, James, 21, had a fairly normal life growing up in southern California. He was a regular kid living in a suburban town, helping with chores around the house, and when he could, surfing with his dad on the weekends. James, blue-eyed and tanned, was living a relaxed California lifestyle, topped off with a ‘Barbie’ look-alike girlfriend, Stephanie, 20.

Today, James’s life is far from envious; he spends his days selling marijuana to pay for his schooling at a local community college. “Being in debt was never an option, and selling marijuana was the only thing that paid above minimum wage, and that would hire me,” James said. This however doesn’t mean that James doesn’t consider his dealing a full-time job. He worked hard to establish relationships with customers and suppliers. Since joining the freshman class nearly three years ago, James has become one of the top dealers in the area.

James says he can make $300 to $500 a day selling marijuana.

His daily routine consists of picking up and delivering drugs. For example, James is on call twenty-four hours a day, giving his customers full access to his stash as long as they have the cash. James describes that the calls come in continuously and that he’ll sometimes spend two to four hours just delivering his goods to faithful buyers. Stephanie often goes along for the ride to keep James company, and James jokes that she has become his ‘business partner.’

Neither student, however, likes to think about the potential complications of selling illegal substances. In 2007, which are the latest figures available, there were 74,119 marijuana- related arrests in California, according to the California State Department of Justice's Criminal Justice Statistics Center. That figure is up nearly 10,000 arrests from 65,386 in 2006.

By selling marijuana James has so far avoided the debt caused by the ever-increasing college tuition. But are the fears of college debt higher than spending half your life in prison?

“I feel like I’m ahead of the game,” says James. “You may think I’m crazy, but I’m not $100,000 in debt.”

James said he grew up with dreams of attending the University of Southern California, and kept that focus throughout his high school career. Always knowing that he would attend college, James said he just figured it would be easy. It was a shock and an eye opener when he first saw how expensive it would be to attend USC.

Thinking his parents would handle the burden he soon realized that was not the case, so he turned to a new direction. One year of tuition at USC costs $37,890, according to The College Board, a non-profit organization that provides college admission information and administers tests, such as the SAT. By contrast, at the community college that James now attends, one year of tuition is $6,000.

Paying for college is a struggle many young adults and their parents are facing. While the amount of financial aid and scholarships offered to students seems to shrink every year, students continue to struggle to pay school bills. While some take out student loans, others like James turn to a job on the side. As James has found, there is a different way to pay for education, which can help avoid debt all together, as long as you’re willing to take that risk.

James says he never imagined himself as the drug dealer type, and he still thinks it is funny that he has become one. James recalls the first time he became interested in selling drugs. “After seeing my good friend make thousands of dollars from two days worth of work, I knew that I wanted to know more about the pot world.”

James says he makes about twenty dollars on each sale and brings in roughly $300 to $500 a day. “About 90% of what I make goes to school, the other 5% goes to buying things for my girlfriend, and the last 5% is usually mine,” he jokes.

Reaching out to Stephanie about her thoughts on her boyfriend selling drugs, it was obvious that she is in full support. “I’m proud that he can get good grades and still sell weed at the same time,” she said. “Many other people I know have ended up dropping out of school, but he is gunna go somewhere.”

James still lives at home with his parents, but he says they have no clue about what he does, and thinks he has a full time job at the school as an office helper. He knew his parents would never accept this lifestyle, and said it was easier to lie.

Now in his final semester, James will walk away from three years of college and not owe one dime. He plans to transfer for his final year to a four-year university, something he has waited seven years to do. James’s three years at community college were far from his childhood dream, but he says it was his most affordable option.

James now plans to pay for his final year of schooling with financial aid and help from family members because he wants to give up selling drugs and become an ‘average student.’

“The day I graduate is the day I stop selling weed,” he says.

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