SAJU: Rising costs of college unnecessary burden

Column: Pride, Not Prejudice

This week, seniors across America took a step toward understanding their futures. Some young adults will take time off, begin working or go to a vocational school. But most of these high schoolers — approximately 70% of them — will decide to attend college. 

The United States has some of the best colleges in the world, but it also has the most college graduates paying off debt. While all college-bound kids will worry about deciding courses of study and making friends, low-income students will have the additional and constant stress of how to afford their education. 

While the recent college admissions scandal has fostered discussion about the unfair advantages that wealthier students are granted during the college admissions process, as well as expanding the issue to reexamine the practice of legacy admissions, the effect of this socioeconomic privilege on America’s meritocracy must be examined. 

Education is the cornerstone of American democracy, and it should be a vehicle for societal amelioration. Instead of supporting the educational escapades of the younger generation, the higher education system today acts as a financial barrier to low-income students. Students are suppressed by mountains of student loans and restricted by the financial situations of their families. 

While it is unfair that a privileged few have the ability to bribe their way into college, this controversy is not among the most relevant issues that low-income students have to face. Kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more concerned with the college guidance gap and the maze of applying for financial aid, as these students will often have to spend more time and energy to comprehend the complexities of the college admissions process. 

Most public schools in the United States do not have a staff member that is specifically hired to be a college counselor. This responsibility often falls on school counselors, but these professionals are already providing assistance to teenagers in times of crisis and managing other academic affairs. Overworking school counselors means that they can only spend approximately 20% of their time on college admissions. 

With the average counselor-to-student average being 1:464, individual students are most likely not given enough attention for both personal and collegiate matters. Of students attending school, 1.7 million go to an institution where there are police officers present in the building and no counselors, according to a recent report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Regardless of skill, intellect or passion, not having the same opportunity to understand the process puts someone at a disadvantage. 

While the process should be straightforward, it is undeniable that there are benefits to learning about the system directly from an expert. Universities in the United States can either be “need-aware/sensitive” (when the ability to pay tuition, without aid, is considered by the admissions committee when deciding acceptance) or “need-blind” (when schools admit a student regardless of whether they require financial aid). 

Furthermore, there are varying types of need-blind policies that can cover all expenses, some expenses or only the expenses of United States citizens. Most public universities and colleges are need-blind, but there are few private universities that fall under the same category. 

With numerous private institutions moving toward need-aware/sensitive policies, there are concerns that high-performing, low-income students will be at a further disadvantage. This background information is just a portion of what needs to be understood before any of the forms for financial aid can be filled out. 

So, how can the system change to better support low-income students? 

First, the system can evolve to a simpler, more effective process. By reducing the number of questions on the application for federal student financial aid from 108 to a few dozen more students who need the assistance, they would feel more comfortable applying. 

The number of student applicants would increase by approximately 2 million people if the process was easier to comprehend and complete, said Kim Cook, executive director for the National College Access Network (NCAN). Along with clarifying the application process, the repayment process should be simplified. There should also be a new accountability system that holds colleges more responsible for student loan counseling.

Not only is tuition increasing every year, but also the supplies needed to actually attend class are following this upward trend. The average student should budget between $1,200 and $1,300 for textbooks and supplies every year, according to the College Board. 

Rutgers University has a program called the "Open and Affordable Textbooks Program," which aims to alleviate the cost of educational materials. If you would benefit from this program, please look into the details and then spread the word about it. 

The skyrocketing price of education should not be a constant worry in a student’s mind. There is nothing of substance to gain from burdening the next generation of professionals with an unprecedented amount of debt. 

This nation was built upon the principle of hard work. By reforming the education system, the United States can uphold this core American value. 

 Neha Saju is a School of Arts and Sciences second-year student planning on majoring in political science and history and minoring in English. Her column, "Pride, Not Prejudice," runs on alternate Fridays. 



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