Through it all, my thirst for learning never weakened. By careful scheduling, I was able to go to grad school. The George Washington University admitted me provisionally at first, due to my second-rate undergraduate grades. The fees, while more than what my undergrad schooling cost, were affordable. I was surprised to learn that I wasn’t dumb at all. I got straight A’s all the way through to the doctorate, of which I am irredeemably proud.
Back at NSA, I didn’t fit the mold. Working with the military in Vietnam had taught me early on to lead, not manage. Leading meant cultivating and supporting subordinates to help them achieve all they are capable of. Applying that approach to the civilian workforce proved uniquely effective. I was promoted rapidly, albeit begrudgingly, into the upper reaches of the executive service. That allowed me to retire as early as possible with enough income to write full time without having to worry about earning a living.
I’ve exploited that advantage to the max. I now have six books in print with two more in the works.
None of that would could have happened had it not been possible for a mediocre student from a poor family to attend one of the world’s greatest universities. But those opportunities no longer exist. The University of California in Berkeley in 2019-2020 charged $14,253 as a year’s tuition for student from within California and $44,007 for those from out of state. The university states that “We take pride in knowing that 38% of students pay nothing out of pocket for tuition due to grants and scholarships and that around two-thirds of students receive some form of financial aid.”
It’s commendable that U.C. helps deserving students with good grades, but what about kids like me with apparently mediocre ability?
I tell this story to illustrate the dilemma that the U.S now faces: the poor cannot afford to go to college. Were I starting out today, I’d be condemned to a blue-collar job with little opportunity for advancement.
President Biden’s moves to make community college free are the first step toward making a college education available to all, no matter their income. We need to join the rest of the democracies in the world in making college possible for all.