Week 12 Readings
When hear of financial aid, I think of myself.
I do not know a single individual who has had a more transformative college experience than myself. I dropped out of high school in my senior year because I had zero desire to learn what. I was being taught and overall resistant to the process I was not taught to value. Although I always wanted to go to college, my highest GPA in any given term was a 1.7 and normally much lower than that. Dropping out was not uncommon in my family as my dad and most of my siblings did the same.
In my first semester in college, I earned a 4.0 GPA and have done so for all but two semesters since. As a result, I was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, and in a short amount of time, I become the Chapter President. This position was exciting for me because I had never considered involving myself on campus before. Being involved on campus informed me of countless opportunities that are unforgettable and life-changing. I became a member of student government, ran the food pantry, planned countless events to help students, and implemented multiple new programs that still exist. I also participated in a legislative internship at the Oregon State Capitol and participated in numerous social justice trainings and leadership development workshops. I even traveled the country presenting and attended over 15 conferences where I was able to develop my presentation skills, network with students across the country, and learn various advocacy and leadership skills. I became student body president and informed decision making at the highest levels of the college as well as among state and federal legislators. I was named the top community college student in the state of Oregon, named a finalist for the country’s largest private transfer scholarship, as well as the Truman Scholarship.
All of these opportunities developed me into a leader, scholar, and most importantly helped me learn more about myself and how I want to fit into this crazy world. Many people view college as the time to have an experience like this, yet most do not have the ability do to because of financial constraints. I do not personally know a single student that has been able to have such transformative experience without help from family.
This was made possible because my brother and his wife provided me the opportunity to move into his basement, earn my GED, and enroll in college. Because they didn’t charge me rent, I only had to work part time. I was also just old enough that I didn’t have to include my parents’ information on FAFSA. With having no expected family contribution, I received the full amount of Pell Grants and federal subsidized loans that paid for all of my community college, plus a little more.
Regardless of free rent, without financial aid, I would have never been able to attend school. Period.
When I hear of financial aid, I think of my boyfriend, Elliott.
He was also the student body president and was able to build a strong network of students, faculty, and administrators to draw from the rest of his life. He also got to learn first hand what it is like to become a leader and advocate for students at the highest levels of the institution and government. He now has a job working in a government office and has the opportunity to further build his network and build opportunities to make much more money than his parents ever did. Without college, this would certainly not be his possible.
Unlike myself, he comes from a middle class family and is not a first generation college student. College was expected of him throughout his entire life. His mother knew the importance of college first hand, and ensured that her children would follow that path. However, he also relied on financial aid.
Both of us are the great financial aid success stories. Financial aid allowed us to have life-changing experiences, build strong networks, and advance economically. However, both of our stories also highlight glaring holes in the financial aid system, many of which are echoed in Paying the Price.
One of the reasons Elliot got a job in government was to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that would allow him to cancel a good amount of his debt. However, because he wasn’t making much money when he started, he had to defer his loan payments. Had he known this was the case, we would have certainly spent his money differently and found a way to make small income-based payments. According the the program’s policy, however, public servants have to pay 120 consecutive payments in order to qualify for repayment. Like many, Elliott thought he would be repaid after 10 years of service. After 5 years, he was informed of his misunderstanding and now is missing out on several thousand dollars of loan forgiveness. Now he wants to make a career move away from public service but would lose out on a significant amount of money through loan forgiveness.
Of course he should have done is due diligence and not assume he would qualify without making payments. Regardless, colleges and universities should be better educating students on how to make college the most affordable.
When I hear about financial aid, I think of Alex and Wyatt.
Alex is a friend of mine from community college. He is a transgender man, with a physical disability, who did not receive financial assistant from his family. Alex wanted to work in the medical field because he knew trans patients were not being served properly. He knew that his very presence would be able to help to make other trans people feel more comfortable.
Like myself, Alex was old enough to not include his parents financial information on FAFSA and qualified for Pell Grants and student loans. He was also a member of student government and had countless opportunities for personal and leadership development as well as networking and skill building.
Each semester Alex heavily relied on his financial aid disbursement to supplement the small income he had working a part-time job. This disbursement money was from nonsubsudized loans he received from the federal government in addition to the full amount of Pell Grants. However, Alex’s rent continually increased each year of college and he began to run out of money before the next semester began. Alex often asked me to help pay his rent until he received his loan disbursement. I would help and he always paid me back, however, Alex faced an unfortunate reality, his rent went up again. He needed to have a more steady income in order to pay his bills. After 4 years at community college, he had to find a full-time job and give up his dream of working in the medical field. He dropped out with no degree and about $10,000 of student loans.
Alex is like many people I met at community college. One student was spending her the majority of each day in the student union. At night, she slept in her car parked on campus. She was fully supporting herself and her girlfriend with student loans. Another friend, Wyatt, earned an associates degree in community college. Although they were not able to afford the high price of a university, they got a job they love. They are doing exactly what they wanted to do. However, they can not afford rent, food and student loans. Their three years of deferment has expired and are unsure of how they will survive — this has worsened during the pandemic because they lost their job and making 60% of their previous income through Unemployment Insurance.
Myself, Alex, Wyatt and Elliott are all where we are today because of financial aid. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend school without it. Each of us also have a large amount of debt we will have to eventually repay. Our life and careers, in many ways, will be dictated by our debt. However, Alex does not have a degree and has no plans to obtain one. Wyatt is making much less than they need to survive and, frankly, an Associates degree may never provide them with the opportunities they could have had if financial aid was able to fully support students throughout four years of college.
Financial aid was able to provide Elliott and I with bachelor’s degrees, yet our debt combined is more than my parents first house.
While reading the first few chapters of Paying the Price, I came across numerous new inadequacies of the financial aid system.
The most eye opening aspects of this book are not the individual stories of students falling through the cracks in financial aid — I have heard these stories. Rather, I was appalled by the federal regulations — or lack thereof. Some federal regulations do exist, such as a student’s financial aid package generally not being larger than a student’s cost of attendance. Although I disagree with this aspect of financial aid, because it prevents students from receiving scholarships that allow them to pay for things excluded from the federal financial aid formula, I understand why such a regulation would be in place.
However, I find it extraordinarily peculiar that the federal government does not have regulations that require states to allocate enough money to make their state colleges affordable, despite a large portion of their funding being allocated to state colleges through financial aid. This lack of regulating state’s college expenses directly relates to the high price of college and thus large amounts of student debt.
Conversely, the federal government has required, and does currently require, that states adhere to certain regulations in order to receive federal funds. One notable moment, out of many, was The 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act that coerced states to raise their minimum drinking age to 21 in order to receive funds for State Highways. I do not have a position on whether or not this regulation should exist. Irrespective, the federal government is okay with infringing on state rights in some aspects and not with others. Being that state appropriations have declined since 1981, the very year neoliberal president Ronald Reagan took office, a curious question remains: Did “Reaganomics” influence the decline in state spending for higher education, or was it a coincidence? If this ideology did influence the decline in state’s higher education appropriations, what specific policies were enacted, or withheld, that made this a reality?