Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

A Daughter's Education

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

A Daughter's Education

Article excerpt

Six years before she climbed the steps of Jones Hall during the fall semester of her senior year at the University of Puget Sound - a bullhorn in hand and a list of a dozen demands for how the university should change - Rachel Askew didn't even know the university existed.

"I had never heard of it," Rachel says, recalling what she knew of the university during her junior year in high school.

The first time Rachel heard about the University of Puget Sound was when her father, Michael Askew - a former Boeing worker who had been displaced from his job in the Puget Sound region of Washington during the Great Recession - took a job as a custodian at the college.

Askew had been struggling to keep up the middle-class lifestyle that he had secured for his family during better days.

It was a lifestyle that enabled Askew and his wife, along with Rachel and her younger brother, Michael, Jr., to live in a spacious $400,000 home. But after he lost his job - which he believes was outsourced to India - Askew had begun to dip into his children's college funds to save the home and avoid having to move back into the family's much smaller rental property that had served as the family's first home. But his efforts were to no avail.

"I took all their college money and spent it trying to keep the other place, and it wasn't working," Askew recalls.

Rachel remembers the toll it took on her father once he exhausted their college savings.

"My dad's only wish was to send me to college," Rachel says. "When he had to give up all those funds for us to be able to survive, I know that really broke his heart."

As the recession and its aftermath wore on, Askew grew less selective in his job search. That was when he came across an ad for the custodian job at the university.

"I said, 'I'll give it a shot,'" Askew says. "I didn't care what it was. I just needed to do something to collect my self-worth. I just knew I needed to get busy."

Even though the campus custodian job wasn't the type of work he had hoped for, it ended up being a huge blessing in disguise.

Shortly after he was hired, Askew learned that, as a university employee, his children could attend the university for free after he put in two years of service.

"Before I took the job, I had been praying: 'What am I gonna do to get my kids through school?'" Askew says. Now, that prayer had been answered.

As it turns out, Askew was hired just in time for Rachel - who was a high school junior at the time - to take advantage of the free tuition benefit for her freshman year in college in 2012. Not long after he took the job, the free tuition policy changed and required five years of service instead of two.

"It just lined up with where we were at," Rachel says. "He had to work there two years, and I had two years left of school."

Whereas previously the University of Puget Sound hadn't even been on Rachel's radar, now it was the only school that had her attention.

"I did early decision," Rachel says. "I didn't apply anywhere else."

Tuition at the small liberal arts college, which currently serves about 2,600 undergraduates, now stands at $47,840 annually. Without some form of financial assistance, the school would have been out of Rachel's reach.

But while Askew's job smoothed the path for Rachel to get into the university, actually attending the college was an entirely different thing.

Being a Black student on a campus where just 1 percent of the student body was Black meant that her experience was "no doubt a roller coaster," Rachel says.

People seemed to harbor different assumptions about how she had been admitted to the school.

"My experience there as someone who had the tuition benefit was interesting," Rachel says. "A lot of people - when I tell them I had free tuition - they think it's because I play sports because I'm Black. Then they think I must have gotten a scholarship or something, which I'm OK with them thinking I'm a genius. …

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