This coming Holy Week would perhaps be an opportune time for families belonging to the working class, to reflect on the very difficult problem of how to finance the college education of their children who just graduated from high school. For families of minimum wage earners, who could hardly afford food and decent housing, education would be the last priority in the family budget. More so, with the rising cost of living, driven by the successive increases in the price of oil, the multiplier effects are causing a lot of more difficulties to the poor.
This writer could vividly recall how my parents, who were public school teachers, struggled to make both ends meet and sent all of us, eight children to school. My father, who was a high school classmate of Congressman Pablo Garcia, used to tell me how the then young Pabling and his brother, Jesus, would walk every day, from Bitoon to the Poblacion, Dumanjug, easily 5 to 6 kilometers, just to be in the then San Carlos High School. Both brothers became Bar topnotchers and top legal luminaries. Governor Francisco Remotigue used to hike through the mountains from Ronda to Argao, driven by passion to get an education. Their stories are truly inspiring.
Because my parents could not afford to send me to high school, at the age of 12, I worked in the household of Doña Alejandra Herrera in Dumanjug, as an errand boy and janitor. My salary was free board and lodging and free high school education in the Little Flower School, owned by Doña Alejandra. The tuition then in the mid-60s was an enormous P5 a month. To elevate my status, I applied to become a school janitor in SWU. They accepted me and I funded my high school education by cleaning the library every day. I was an academic scholar in college and then I worked as a court interpreter in the Cebu City Court. I went to the Gullas Law School at night. All the time I lived in the squatters’ area, built my own shanty, cooked my own food and washed my clothes. The rest is history. I was able to prove then that even poor people can get a college education.
But not everyone has children who are as driven as we were. Today, I can not imagine how a family could survive, with only one breadwinner, earning less than P500 daily wage, with four children, two in the elementary, one in high school and one about to enter college. They have to pay house rental, water and electric bills, jeepney fares and “baon’’ every day. The cheapest tuition today for a non-exclusive school in Cebu could reach up to P500 per unit or about P11,000 for 25 units per semester. With miscellaneous expenses, fare and “baon,” the cost could run up to P25,000 per semester. That could already be a fortune to a father who is just a construction worker or even a public school teacher or a police officer.
In the first world countries, college education is affordable because the working class’ incomes are high or the government subsidizes colleges and universities.
In Kuwait, where I lived for two years as diplomat, the government pays for the college education of all Kuwaitis, and gives a generous allowance package and a guarantee of government jobs upon graduation. In Malaysia, where I was also assigned for three years, families have enough money for tuition and the government shoulders college education.
Here, the poor have to fight tooth and nail, beg and borrow, or work as OFW to send their kids to college.
The statistics in DepEd and CHED show that only 66 out of every 100 who finish elementary go to high school. And out of those 66, only 43 could finish secondary education. Of the 43 high school graduates, only 23 can go to college, out of which only 23 can obtain a college diploma. The saddest thing is that out of the 23 college graduates only 5 to 6 can immediately get a job. The point is that the high mortality rate is largely due to the unaffordable cost of college education.
Tuition in De La Salle cost P2,500/unit, P3,000/unit in Ateneo, P2,200/unit in FEU, P2,000/unit in UST, and P1,700/unit in UP. Because I worked in Pepsi, Petron and San Miguel as corporate executive for 20 years, and taught in 5 law schools at night, I was able to send my 5 kids to De La Salle, Ateneo, UST and Assumption. Besides, I had all of my kids fully covered by CAP and I enjoyed it in full before that pre-need company got into fiscal troubles. I am proud that I did all that through hard work. Today, all my children are earning well, much more than I make as a poor civil servant of the OFWs. I am proud of my 5 kids. But I am more proud being a former SWU janitor, a UV scholar and an urban poor dweller, and a barefoot houseboy in Argao, Dumanjug and Ronda. I had my share of Calvary too but I have had my “Easter,” by sheer hard work and by the love of God.