This story is being featured as part of our "Yahoo Best Stories of 2015" series. It was originally published in July 2015.
Atlanta radio show “The Bert Show” had a guest on this week who has managed to incite the rage of just about every millennial in the state of Georgia (and beyond, the show is syndicated in 11 states).
The woman, a 22-year-old college junior named Kim, who did not give her last name on air and was allowed to use a voice disguiser to even further shield her identity, came to the three hosts with a confession: in just short three years she had managed to blow through a $90,000 college fund left to her by her grandparents. Kim has one year left of school and no way to cover her remaining $20,000 tuition balance.
The show’s hosts try to give Kim the benefit of the doubt. She’s come to them (for some untold reason — perhaps a financial aid officer would have been a wiser choice) in a time of great need and they at least want to try to help her.
But what followed has to be one of the most painful interviews that has ever been aired on national radio. Kim manages to personify just about every parent’s worst nightmare — an entitled 20-something who asks for handouts rather than face the very real financial challenges of young adulthood. You can listen to the full interview online at TheBertShow.com, but we’ve shared the highlights of Kim’s cringe-inducing description of her predicament below.
"Years ago my grandparents set up a college fund for me, which was amazing, and I haven’t been very good with my budget for school. The first payment for my senior year just arrived and I don’t have the money basically. I’ve just been avoiding it. I knew the bill was coming.”
“I used it to budget for school clothes and college break money. I probably should have not done that. I took a trip to Europe. The Europe thing I thought was part of my education and that’s how I tried to justify that.”
“Maybe [my parents] should have taught me to budget or something. They never sat me down and had a real serious talk about it.”
“[My parents] said there was nothing they could do for me. They’re not being honest with me saying they don't have [money] because my dad has worked for like a million years and they have a retirement account.”
“Then my parents suggested I go take out a loan at a credit union and I’m, like, how am I supposed to do that?"
“I have to go inside the bank to get a loan?”
Bert Show co-host Jeff Dauler: "You could get a job for the school ...maybe the cafeteria's hiring."
Kim: "That’s embarrassing."
“I know they’re trying to teach me a lesson and blah blah blah and character building but, like, I hope they realize [working part-time] could have such a negative effect on my grades and as a person."
Here’s what’s most infuriating about Kim’s situation: Not only is she admitting that she had — and squandered — a $90,000 college fund that was supposed to cover her college expenses , but she completely lacks any remorse. She says she feels "stressed" but not once does she seem grateful for her good fortune or ashamed about blowing it in three short years.
Not surprisingly, The Bert Show’s hosts have a really hard time keeping it together during their conversation with Kim. We have to give major kudos to co-host Kristin Klingshirn who (despite the fact that she herself had to work three jobs to pay for college, she said) was the only one who did not completely give up on Kim’s ability to get it together. “I think you’re learning an even more valuable lesson than you could in any of your classes,” Klingshirn told her.
Eventually, it does seem as if Kim starts to get the message. Her parents refused to cosign a loan to cover her tuition shortfall unless she got a job. She called the show on Thursday to give her fourth and final update: She has come to grips with the fact that she will, indeed, have to get a job. We almost felt a bit sorry for her when she started explaining how difficult it has been to find a place that will hire her because she has no job history.
“I feel like I’m back at square one,” she said. “I’m hustling to do this and to make this work.”
Listening to this young woman slowly start to understand the value of abstract concepts like hard work and responsibility was as equally gratifying as it was boggling to the mind. All we have to say is this: “The Bert Show” deserves a special award for services to their country. Thanks to them, there may be one less 20-something out there giving millennials a bad rap.
Update: Given the rabid response I've gotten from readers on this story, I feel compelled to add some more context to Kim's situation. Yes, plenty of students juggle work and school to cover their tuition costs. In fact, three-quarters of college students work at least part-time throughout school to cover tuition costs, according to a forthcoming survey from student lender Sallie Mae. But simply telling a college student to "get a job" to cover their tuition is somewhat shortsighted.
Bad budgeting skills or not, college students are matriculating at a time when it has never been more expensive to get a college degree. Yes, students can cope with this cost by applying for scholarships, low-interest federal student loans or work-study programs on campus. But even that might not be enough.
Working 20 hours a week at a part-time job at today’s federal minimum wage rate ($7.25), it would take the average college student more than five years to pay off the average net tuition cost at a public-four year university ($36,000). And that doesn’t include expenses like housing, transportation and food. At the same time, household wages have fallen flat and fixed costs like housing and health care are rising exponentially. What Kim has unfortunately realized is that kids who don't have plush college funds typically have only way to cover college costs and that is student debt. And that is how our country has found itself with a $1 trillion student debt crisis on its hands. More than one-quarter of today’s 38 million student debtors are strapped with $50,000 or more in student loan debt and the average graduate carries nearly $30,000.
And there's no GIF clever enough in the world to make that an easier pill to swallow.