Between spending hundreds of dollars in textbooks each semester and scrapping enough money together for rent and groceries, college is a financial burden for any student.
But for many students, especially from middle class backgrounds, every day spent on campus can be broken down to a dollar amount. For me, Syracuse University priced that dollar amount as upward of $15,000 per year. Between house, utility, car and the other payments necessary maintain a home, my family doesn’t have thousands of dollars to spare annually. Multiplied by four years, it’s an intimidating number to face.
For many students whose parents annual income is too high to qualify for federal financial aid, but too low to personally finance one or more college educations, the price has become an all too common fear. These students and their families must often resort to borrowing a cocktail of loans in order to finance an education at a four-year institution.
This is especially troubling, considering financial aid — to the tune of $5.3 billion — was given to students who weren’t in need of financial help this year, according to an article published on USA TODAY.com Friday.
In order to compete with colleges such as Yale and Stanford, who offer financial assistance to families that earn up to $200,000, less competitive colleges feel pressured to give more grant money to families with higher incomes. Grants are awarded to upper income households, in hopes more financially well-off families can payoff the remaining tuition.
This financial aid strategy by universities reduces the amount of available aid for students from lower and middle class backgrounds who, in turn, must borrow more to pay for tuition costs, according to the article.
The financial aid divvied to students that don’t require financial assistance, were given to those from “affluent communities with top-rate school systems” who received high grades and test scores.
There should be some accounting for the resources made available to students, prior to entering college.
Students who successfully navigate struggling urban schools or even average suburban high schools, are disadvantaged compared to their more affluent counterparts from the beginning. Lower and middle class students don’t have the abundance of resources and education options money can afford. When college applications are compared, side by side, the resumes of affluent students are bound to appear more sterling in comparison. If aid is offered solely to high-achieving students from elite schools, it only reinforces the concept that college is tailored to serve the rich.
Reducing aid for less privileged students only puts them at a further disadvantage. Inevitably, less well-off students choose not to go through the financial strain, give up on their first pick and settle for less.
Some seek out a couple years at a community college. And while that is certainly a good alternative for some, community colleges in places such as California, have faced severe cutbacks in the last couple of years, making it difficult for students to enroll into classes needed to transfer into four-year institutions.
To try and remain academically and professionally competitive with students from wealthy backgrounds, some middle class students take the financial hit and hope they can impress enough during college to guarantee a job after graduation. And while the more individualized classroom experience and resources at four-year colleges do give students somewhat of a competitive edge, it in no way ensures a career straight from college, as has been well-documented by the numerous unemployed college graduates.
Universities shouldn’t exacerbate these odds by increasing aid for the wealthy at the cost of reducing financial assistance for those who exhibit the most need.
While President Barack Obama’s federal plan to reduce student loan debt announced in October sounds promising, colleges and universities have a responsibility to view each student as more than walking tuition bills. It should be a mission of higher education institutions across the nation to see that each student graduates with as little debt as possible.
A good start would be to stop catering to students who don’t need the financial help.
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