Rising tuition, rising doubts

by Sara Barber / Beacon Correspondent and Lili Schmalenberger / Beacon Correspondent • April 13, 2017

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Students shouldn’t have to sacrifice basic needs for a college degree
Students shouldn’t have to sacrifice basic needs for a college degree

The wake-up call of financial woes

I have always been expected to pay for my last three years of college—my dad had an agreement with me and my siblings that he would pay for our first year, and we would cover the rest. I was okay with this because, as a high school student who was more concerned with my grades and friends, the adult responsibility of handling $150,000 in college loans just did not feel tangible to me. But now my freshman year is coming to a close, and the debt is looming. I chose Emerson because I knew the education here would pay off in the end, but with the now annual tuition increase, I have my doubts.

When I walked into my parents’ kitchen over spring break, I noticed a letter addressed to me from Emerson. I opened it, and my heart dropped. 

There, in front of my eyes, was a letter that casually stated tuition for next year was rising by 4.5 percent. The first thing I did was take out my phone to bring up the calculator app and look at the number that came up. Right after I did that, I realized that had I not been home to open that letter, I probably wouldn’t have found out about the increase in tuition. The letter was addressed to me from my college. I asked a few of my friends if they would have known about the increase in tuition had I not told them, and they said they wouldn’t have. I called over my dad and he looked at it. “Well, that stinks,” he said. And he was right.

I knew that I was going to be in debt—nowadays, few college students are left without even a little bit of debt. But after reading the school’s letter, I realized that if tuition continued to increase over my next three years of college, not only would I be in debt, but also potentially be compromising the very education I was putting myself in debt for. 

Before I had even applied to Emerson, I told myself the only way I would come here would be if they offered me financial aid or scholarship money. But they didn’t. So then I told myself it would be okay and there was always a chance my financial situation might change my sophomore year. Little did I know that even if I got money from the school, it still wouldn’t account for the burden of the annual increase.

Up until this point, the reality of being responsible for $150,000 was easy to ignore. But now I’m forced to face the harsh reality that my student loans won’t be waiting for me to make my first six figure salary, they are coming the second I finish college. They will be there whether I have a good paying job or I’m making minimum wage. 

During my college search, I was accepted into eight schools, all of which offered me a fantastic education and generous merit scholarships. Emerson was the only school that didn’t offer me a merit scholarship, and its small financial aid package didn’t ease its overwhelming tuition. I even turned down an incredible opportunity to study in Italy that only would’ve cost a quarter of Emerson’s tuition.

I thought about going to other schools for communication studies, but Emerson offers one of the best programs in the country. I talked to my cousin, an Emerson alumna, and she said receiving an education from this school was one of—if not the—best experiences in her life. She convinced me it would be that way for me too. But I still had doubts about expenses, and the tuition increase has only amplified these fears.

After having this existential crisis at nine o’clock on a Saturday night, I started weighing my options. But my choices were limited: either transfer to a less expensive school, stay here and be in debt, or find a cheap, non-Emerson affiliated study abroad program. Option three seemed like my best bet, because it allowed me to travel, but also continue my studies at a lower cost. But the fact that I have to constantly think about jeopardizing the quality of my education because of money really worries me. I took a chance coming to Emerson and I constantly doubt my decision because of the money. I won’t know if the chance I took is worth it until I get my first job out of college, and that terrifies me.

The rise in tuition made me realize how real money actually is. I had this epiphany that I could never actualize how much $60,000 a year is. I don’t even know what that looks like, and yet I’m willing to spend it on my education every year. If I am putting this much money on the line, I should be guaranteed my investment will be worth it. I haven’t quite put this entire puzzle together, but hopefully my pieces fall into place to study abroad. Because if not, I don’t know if I will be able to spend the rest of my education here at Emerson College.

Lili Schmalenberger, Beacon correspondent

Tuition increases widen experience gap

Being poor anywhere isn’t easy, but being a poor student at Emerson is a reality check that often feels draining. With the recent increase contributing to an already unaffordable tuition price, it is harder to maintain indifference toward the unreasonable cost of higher education. This inconspicuous price hike forces students to have drastically varying experiences of what should be unified fulfillment in everyone’s education.

I find satisfaction in making positive change, and this school has always struck me as the perfect place to expand and develop my creativity in order to better the world. After attending a high school made of no dreams, where everyone grew up at 16 and thought they were done learning, I knew pursuing a college education was the only way for me to better myself and the world around me. So I made the firm choice to dig myself far into debt because I know that in the future it will pay off.

When I arrived at Emerson, it was an enormous culture shock. In the town I came from, everyone I knew worried about money constantly. Financial factors were at the forefront of nearly every decision for me. These elements of a life associated with poverty were not present when I got there. The support network of friends I had developed who shared those experiences disappeared, and I was left navigating how to bridge these two worlds for myself.

As everyone does, I sometimes doubt that I put myself on the right path. This instability can come in the form of my institution’s silent tuition increases. Sometimes it is challenging to convince myself that this expensive education is worth all the still-lingering effort of begging my parents to help me find a way to attend the school of my dreams. Even though I know I enjoy positively contributing to this community more than I would anywhere else, I still feel undervalued as a person when it is my class range that is the most affected by these quiet alterations.

I am poor, but I am powerful, and many people in this environment do not see where those identities overlap. During one of my first months at Emerson, there was an Emerson-affiliated Facebook group where a new student posted complaints about the poor people outside Dunkin Donuts begging for money. I was stunned to see myself in the way the student who posted those comments described poverty, and saw a disconnect between how people living in wealth understand the experiences that poverty forces onto people. I feel further isolated when I see people flippantly complaining about poor people and realize they do not have to worry about the rising tuition like I do. People like me who are representing diverse and life-altering experiences are being silenced by their own college.

Emerson College definitely isn’t a prime place for poor students, but for those students who have the drive and the will to succeed, tuition is yet another barrier they must overcome to feel like they belong as a part of the school’s community. 

Sara Barber, Beacon correspondent