In March, USF announced the cost of an education at our school would increase for this upcoming academic year. In previous years, I have reacted to the tuition increases with a resigned sigh. I understand that college costs money and that our institution is, for the most part, tuition-driven.
But this year felt different. I felt angered and betrayed by an institution that talks about the ways they support their students, but consistently fails to take any action to help its most financially vulnerable students.
After the tuition announcement, Provost Donald Heller wrote the Foghorn a letter to the editor where he explained, in detail, the reasons for the tuition increase along with the beneficial services that USF is providing to its students. The situation Heller outlined makes logistical sense, especially when taking into account today’s challenging financial landscape. In no way do I think that the administration has bad intentions.
I am a part of the less than 3% of former foster children who will graduate from college. My attendance at USF, and the attendance of many others, is a story of resilience. I find myself among students who have lots of privilege, yet we walk the same halls and sit in the same classrooms. This is something I am incredibly proud of.
I experience pushback from friends, family, and even some students when I raise socioeconomic issues at USF. Their response is often that the University is a private school and it is not required to be accessible to low-income students. In other words, “You knew what you were getting yourself into.”
Higher education, regardless of type, should be accessible to low-income students with hard work and dedication.
USF has core social justice principles that attract many conscientious students from all over the world. In their promotions, our University proclaims that they give a majority of their students some form of financial aid. Representatives ensure prospective students and their families, including many that are low income, that everything about their admission and financial aid process is inclusive and fair.
However, this vision contrasts deeply with the harsh reality of a highly exclusive and elite academic environment. From the high food prices, expensive on-campus housing and the continually increasing cost of attendance — estimated at $65,692 including room and board for the 2019-20 academic year — it’s not hard to imagine how this cost can stress many financially strained students and their families. I do believe that, if students are in otherwise good academic standing, we should not have to choose between a tuition bill and receiving an education.
When other concerned students and I met with representatives of the administration a couple of weeks ago, they repeated the recurring theme that the tuition increase is a sacrifice for the quality education and services we receive as students. However, we are already making sacrifices. Some working-class and low-income students hold leadership positions and multiple jobs. We work hard and are successful, in spite of the fact that the system is patently not meant for students like me.
I have been a student leader for three years now with GO Team, the Cultural Centers and USF 101. Through my work, I’ve developed a deep love for USF and the people here. Although I do acknowledge that the University has made strides in attempting to become more inclusive for more communities of students, I do feel there is a blind spot when it comes to socio-economic class.
But it is what I’ve learned through my time at USF that informs my need to speak out against the administration’s actions. As a University community, we continue to leave out the voices of the less economically fortunate.
Dons for Fair Tuition, an ad hoc student group I am involved in, has outlined key policies that the University can take to increase transparency and lift the burden on students already disadvantaged by the tuition increase.
These policies include offsetting the cost of tuition for self-identified low-income students in the form of tuition subsidies, extension of payment deadlines, lowering the threshold of payment plans from $2,500 to $500 and an establishment of “office hours” for the financial aid office that would be located at accessible locations on campus, similar to what Career Services Center and Counseling and Psychological Services do.
A student’s financial situation can change, so we need a policy of allowing students to request re-evaluations of financial aid given unforeseen circumstances. Lastly, we recommend the University publishes a quarterly email newsletter outlining financial aid opportunities and ways students can actively offset tuition costs.
So, in response to the administration that continues to ask for our sacrifices in order to keep the University running and to improve its services, I say that we have already made enough sacrifices. Maintaining student services and access while supporting and uplifting first generation, working-class and low-income students is not mutually exclusive, and I expect the University to honor that.