Newsletter/ Opinion Editor
Navigating the process of financial aid can sometimes seem daunting, especially if you have to fight certain elements of the process such as claiming independent status or finding a way around the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).
The system isn’t perfect and certainly there are many things that could be fixed about it, chiefly among them the EFC calculator.
The first way that you know you’re going to be hurting is if you were born after 1990. Those who were born from 1990 and up automatically have to fight with FAFSA and the government to claim independent status.
This is one of the (many) reasons I was not able to go to college straight out of high school. When I graduated, the EFC calculator estimated that my family would be able to contribute $8,000 for my schooling.
In a nutshell, and without going into too much detail, that wasn’t going to happen in my lifetime.
How and why the government thinks a family living just at the poverty line has money to spend on tuition is still a head-scratcher but then again, trying to find logic in a government calculator is as successful fishing in a septic tank.
Even now as an independent student living below the poverty line the EFC calculator still thinks I am able to afford $6,000 on my own.
The FAFSA website (being ever so helpful) suggests that I tap into investments that don’t exist or try to access and apply for grants and scholarships I don’t qualify for for.
The point being that if you’re dirt poor you’ve got the world at your feet.
You qualify for Pell Grants, work study, Perkins loans and practically every grant or scholarship out there. The government will literally give you enough money through grants and loans so that you don’t even need to get a job to pay for extra expenses.
An independent student who has no dependents, and no contribution from their family can earn the maximum pell grant of approximately $5,000 per year, plus qualify for federal loans that can total up to another approximately $12,000. That’s near $17,000 for one year, which can easily make for a comfortable living for a single person if done correctly.
Don’t take this the wrong way; I’m not saying the indigent don’t deserve to go to college, or that they don’t need that much money to do so, or that it’s easy being poor (believe me, I know better on the latter). I’m more frustrated that the if you’re like the 85% of students who receive some sort of federal loan but no grants or other frills, you know that it’s not enough on its own.
Qualifying for only $10,000-$12,000 on average (for an independent student) just barely covers the tuition and books at WMU. Rent, food, utilities, a phone bill, all of these things come out of pocket.
Many students that come from dual-income households suffer the most. If the example of the average American family is used, a family of four with two working parents earning a combined total of $75,000 a year and who has one child in college their EFC is approximately $10,000, meaning that the child will qualify for almost no financial aid when all is said and done. This in turn forces either the parents or the student to take out private loans at higher rates and may be completely dependent on a credit score of their parents that the student has no control over.
What this all boils down to is that the country is mortgaging our future on the backs of those who can’t afford it. That quintessential American family isn’t a perfect model, but it’s a model that is all too familiar for many students who are being punished for having parents that make a decent living.
Getting one, two or some times even three jobs isn’t unheard of.
In my situation, I feel like I’m struggling to balance school, a job and keep up grades as my academics become increasingly harder in the upper echelons of higher education. I can’t afford to work more because my grades will suffer, but my grades suffer because I work too much outside of school already.
It’s a Catch 22 scenario that many of us are familiar with. It’s why we look at the FAFSA screen every year we file and feel that same hole of oppression beating us down as we begrudgingly type in the meager salary we did make in the year only to have it held against us.
In a perfect world we’d put education on a pedestal and make it freely available for all. As it stands today, we’re currently in a downward spiral to the bottom consisting of overpriced tuition from public and private schools alike topped with an advertisement during every commercial break heralding the prospects of an online degree that is basically a worthless chunk of paper.
The EFC, the status quo, and FAFSA all need to change if we’re ever going to break the cycle of encumbering our college students with a debt that often costs as much as a house.