With a student population of 20,000 and an average student age of 25, MSU Denver is the black sheep of Colorado universities. It’s different because of its non-traditional students, meaning students who are older, sometimes coming back to school after a career or with a house and kids of their own. But one thing is the same at MSU Denver as it is everywhere else: the students struggle. Everything from grades to tuition causes stress for MSU Denver students. In spite of this, students say the cost of education isn’t enough to sway them from following their passions.
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“Straight out of high school, I went to Front Range Community College, and I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I did gen ed classes. And the only one that in any way held my interest was philosophy,” said Jim Bofenkamp, a sophomore studying philosophy at MSU Denver.
Bofenkamp said that ever since that first philosophy class at Front Range, he has been fascinated by life’s bigger questions. Nothing else at Front Range captivated him, though, so he dropped out. After working at Taco Bell for a while, he decided school was better and decided to enroll at MSU Denver. He said he chose to study philosophy because everyone told him to study what he liked.
The money Bofenkamp made at Taco Bell wasn’t enough to pay for his education at a school like CU Boulder, he said, but he could afford MSU Denver. A year’s tuition at MSU Denver costs about $7,000, which is $5,000 less than CU Boulder.
With a degree in philosophy, Bofenkamp said that everybody wants to know where he’s planning to go after he gets his diploma. That’s why he’s working at the Denver Press Club now as a bartender, hoping it will lead to a career in journalism.
“I really think what I would like to do is move to a mountain village and cover city council meetings and small town news,” Bofenkamp said.
Finding a job after college is the question that rattles every college student, and even their professors worry for them. Shaun Schafer is the Associate Vice President of Curriculum and Policy Development. He was formerly the chair of the Journalism and Media Production Department at MSU Denver. He said students want to study things that will automatically guarantee them a job after college, and especially in programs like journalism, it’s not easy to guarantee jobs.
“It is difficult, because people go, ‘Man, I need something that I can say I can take class x and this will lead to job y and I will be okay in the long run,’” Schafer said.
Schafer said this uncertainty could be leading to a state-wide drop in enrollment in recent years. Since 2011, enrollment at MSU Denver has been plummeting each year. In the past year, full-time enrollment in the journalism department has dropped by 7.6%. He said he doesn’t doubt that the reason all college enrollment numbers are down is because students are looking for an endpoint that will be guaranteed after graduation.
“And when you have a growing economy and you don’t need a degree to get that job, you don’t really see a whole lot of value in why do this,” he said.
Bofenkamp said dropping enrollment has more to do with the state of the economy. As Assistant News Editor for The Metropolitan, MSU Denver’s student newspaper, he wrote last semester in his article “MSU Denver’s declining enrollment” that non-traditional students seek out schools like MSU Denver when the economy is in a downturn to improve their employability.
“It’s not necessarily because of tuition, it’s because, well, cost benefit,” Bofenkamp said. “When the economy dives again, as I’ve heard it will soon, I expect enrollment will start to go back up again.”
Regardless of economy growth, students still struggle with tuition costs. At MSU Denver, Financial Aid is in no less demand than at other universities. Jill Benson, a senior who will graduate in December with a degree in English, says paying for her final semester has left her with a charge over her head that she’s not sure will go away anytime soon.
“I don’t wanna be attached to this school anymore,” Benson said. “Like, I’m literally leaving. And it feels like you can’t leave if you have money attached.”
All is not lost for MSU Denver students, though. Like Bofenkamp, Benson also has plans for her future. When she graduates, she will already have a job at her own publishing company, 8 Little Pages Publishing. She said that in 10 or 15 years from now, she’ll be looking for people who have graduated with an English degree when she hires for her company.
“English degrees, what they require you to do to complete your English degree (…) teaches you invaluable things about, I mean, just society, but about books and literature and what they do for humanity and people,” she said. “And that, I don’t think is ever really gonna go away, and I think that’s why it’s necessary in publishing.”
Bofenkamp said that every philosophy student has their own motivations and plans for their future, but he says that his passion is enough to keep him in school until graduation, and wherever he winds up afterward, he knows his studies will leave him better off, and that ultimately is the value of education.
“I really enjoy philosophy, and studying it now gives me a grounding so that once I’m out of school, I can continue to read philosophy, and I’ll have a better framework from which I can figure out what’s being said,” he said.
No one can say for sure if going to college will be this hard a decade from now, but as long as people continue to study things they’re passionate about, businesses like publishing and news media will be here to stay.