Educating schools on the costs of education

| Senior Forum Editor

When Washington University announced earlier this year that it would be attempting to increase the amount of Pell Grant-eligible students to 13 percent by 2020, the administration signaled a continuing commitment to expanding socioeconomic diversity on campus. While admirable, the project seemed to be at best too little, too late as the University is already leagues behind its peers. At worst, it was more smoke and mirrors as tuition was raised once again. Regardless, the move was a step in the right direction given the restrictions the University is operating under.

Recently, however, Stanford University announced that it would be providing free tuition to families whose yearly income is less than $125,000. While the move is really just a refinement of the existing policy (under $100,000), it shows that Stanford recognizes the drastic socioeconomic gaps in this country and their impact on higher education and is doing something relatively simple to rectify them.

The discount also covers room and board for families with income below $65,000. Compare this policy with a Pell Grant, which is at most $5,730 and awarded generally to students coming from families with income below $60,000. The differences are striking. Stanford is providing free education and free costs of living to the same students whom Wash. U. struggles to compensate for after losing their $6,000.

It’s easy to equivocate and lament that the Stanford endowment is over three times that of Wash. U.’s, so obviously we can’t institute the same policy. While true that we can’t institute the same degree of financial aid policy as Stanford, it doesn’t mean we can’t emulate the framework. Wash. U. has already implemented a policy along the lines of Stanford’s but with lower, more manageable numbers (small grants for families with income below $75,000), so the groundwork is in place for the school to become a more socioeconomically diverse community when the endowment can support further aid. But unlike Stanford, Wash. U. is still a need-aware university. As long as the amount of financial aid required by a family is considered in the admissions process, Wash. U. will never fully be committed to establishing socioeconomic diversity.

Stanford’s commitment to keeping the school accessible to talented students regardless of their financial background thus comes in stark contrast to the atmosphere of entitlement that Wash. U. maintains. According to Forbes, 70 percent of Stanford students receive some type of financial aid whereas 58 percent of Wash. U. students receive aid. In addition, the average financial package given to a Stanford student is nearly $6,000 more than the average package for a Wash. U. student.

The most surprising part of this, though, is not that Stanford is increasing its financial aid presence, but that before it did, 77 percent of students were already graduating debt-free. Contrast that number with the 25 percent of students who graduate from private colleges debt-free nationwide and the absurd costs of education begin to make sense. We live in a culture that overvalues higher education, pricing it well beyond the means of the people who need it most. The new thing has become for colleges to talk in rhetoric endorsing affordable education for all without taking any steps to put a plan in action.

For example, this year Wash. U. boasted its lowest-percentage tuition increase in years even though tuition increased by the same dollar amount. It seems that Wash. U. is simply paying lip service to the idea of increasing socioeconomic diversity while shrouding its actual commitment in semantics.

Stanford’s new financial aid plan represents far more than socioeconomic diversity and affordable college. It represents a recognition of the problems in the processes through which financial aid is given. With the $69 billion that the government currently spends on federal grants and other forms of aid, the government could subsidize all public universities and therefore make public university tuition free. While this step certainly wouldn’t rectify socioeconomic diversity problems, it would offer an alternative option of higher education to everyone and feasibly lower the costs of private university tuition because of decreased competition.

Higher education costs are a systemic problem nationwide that are only made worse by individual universities like our own that begrudgingly open their doors to low-income students. Stanford’s new policy is more than just a step in the right direction; it’s an opportunity for systemic reform. The Stanford plan is simple: if you need the aid, you will get the aid. Hopefully, more universities will follow suit and drop the meaningless drivel.

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