Every college student is driven to pursue higher education for personal reasons. Some students aim to be the first member of their family to receive a degree, while others are honoring a long-standing tradition of academia. Despite bringing a plethora of differing experiences, goals, and worldviews to college with them, there is one thing that unites most students, the belief that a college degree will provide us with the best possible chance to achieve our desired future. Unfortunately, these days, getting a degree is not as cost-effective as it was for the generations of students that came before us. As a result, we must be empowered to use every tool available to us to optimize the substantial investment we’ve made in our education and ensure that investment was not in vain.

While graduating from college has the power to change one’s future, there is no denying that the accompanying financial burden is a major source of stress for students like me. Today, more than half of all college students in this country enter debt to attend college and I am certainly in that majority. In 2020, the average debt per borrower rose to well over $37,000 across nearly 45 million borrowers. As the number of students in the United States entering substantial debt in pursuit of higher education continues to grow, the stakes surrounding academic success also skyrocket.

But graduating from college is no sure thing. Barely 40 percent of all full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree within four years. As a result, millions of students fall short of finishing their degree programs and find themselves in serious debt without a diploma. To remedy this situation, educators must support students seeking supplementary resources, particularly those students who are falling behind.

Far too often, academic institutions struggle to provide the support that students require outside of the classroom. Even the best-intentioned professors can’t offer much outside of office hours, and campus tutors aren’t on call around the clock. And for those who work full time like me, who have difficulty making these limited times work with my busy schedule, it can be especially difficult. Luckily, modern technology can pick up the slack. We are fortunate to have an abundance of resources at our fingertips. And when schools are unable to provide the support we need, we can find answers to our questions on Google or YouTube. Or, when I need more personalized support, I utilize online supplemental learning platforms like Chegg that provide answers to practice questions along with other support.

Unfortunately, many colleges and universities have been pushing back against these online tools, discouraging and even disciplining students who use them to supplement their learning, because some students have abused the platforms to cheat. Even having a Chegg account can be a sign of being ‘guilty’ to some professors. However, they don’t realize how much students rely on these tools to practice and study. I am not saying that it is okay for students to cheat on take-home exams, but institutions have to see how much students use these always available tools to learn, and not just because we were studying from home. They provide always-available support, and when you can’t understand something, you can almost always find a different way the issue is explained online.

While academic institutions claim to prioritize supporting student success, their ability to do so varies immensely, and when push comes to shove, as adult students we are responsible for our own education. For this reason, academic administrators and faculty should not be policing the tools that students use, particularly when those resources are being used properly – not to cheat.

As students, we all face different challenges that are unique to our situation. For example, I work full time while simultaneously attending my local community college, and as a result my experience and by extension, my academic needs, differ immensely from those seen as “traditional” students. I alone know what I need to succeed, and I should be allowed to access these tools to ensure my academic success.

As students, we are responsible for prioritizing our studies. However, educators are responsible for empowering us by allowing us to access the resources we need. Academic institutions must recognize the serious financial investment that we are making in our education and honor that investment by supporting the use of supplementary resources, allowing us to optimize our academic experiences and achieve our desired futures.