InDebted Extra: An update on SC tech school student Raul Zambrano
I met Raul Zambrano in the Learning Commons at York Technical College — a place that in my college days in the Analog Age would be called the student center and not be capitalized — in September 2022.
Raul was going back to school at age 30. Unlike a lot of his classmates, he already had a bachelor’s degree and a career as a clinical mental health counselor.
He liked the job, it just didn’t pay very well. That latter aspect clashed with the reality of how much it cost for him to be an adult with a life in the real world.
His original degree from Stetson University in Florida was pricey, but Raul was lucky in that his parents had paid for it.
But two things were hard for him to cope with: the guilt that his parents were still paying for his education, and the discomfort of having to live with his in-laws because he and his wife needed to save up some money to get out there on their own.
He was working and going to school and taking advantage of York Tech’s free tuition last semester to get as many of his grounding courses as possible for the nursing master’s program he was planning to eventually transfer into.
That’s the story of Raul Zambrano that you’ll hear in second episode of the InDebted podcast. And it rings as true as it always did.
But between the time Raul and I met and the day the episode dropped, Raul transferred out of York Tech and is now enrolled in the nursing master’s program at the University of South Carolina.
I left Raul’s segment in the podcast unaltered for two reasons. First, his motives for chasing a new career that requires an advanced degree are timeless. There’s a kind of calculus a lot of people with degrees and careers are making lately, weighing how much it costs to be who they are against how much they can afford to invest in who they want to be, and Raul’s experience, though no longer current at the time of this writing, has a certain universality to it.
Second, the power of his words resonates in a way that transcends the circumstances of any one situation. To have cut him out of the story simply because his circumstances have upgraded would be to strangle a voice that, intentionally or not, speaks for a lot of people.
Since September, Raul and his wife have moved out on their own, which he says is a challenge because with his new course load, he’s not working. He also is grateful to have gotten so many foundational courses out of the way before entering USC — one, because it saved him a lot of money on college tuition and two, he says, because tech school put him ahead of a lot of people in his class.
He’s happy. Busy, but happy where he is, and he defends tech schools (or community colleges, as they’re called in some places) as a viable and cost-effective option to high-priced four-year schools.
Back in September, Raul told me about some advice he would give to himself if he could talk to his high school graduate self about how to plan financially and academically for college:
“If I could go back to my 18-year-old self and say, ‘No, no, you're looking a year ahead. You're looking two years ahead. You’ve really got to start looking about five or six years ahead.’ If you want to know what it's going to be like to get out of college and live in the real world. And that's what I hope for them.”
Like I said earlier — what Raul has to say resonates, and that doesn’t change just because the scenery does.