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Admissions 101: College Pitfalls for Poor Students

It's conventional wisdom that talented, but underpriveleged, students are often turned away from college for lack of funds. Jay Mathews tried to dispell that idea in a column this week. He asked for readers to throw out examples of such students. No one wrote in.

Jay wrote the real challenge for needy students is not getting into school, but staying in once the scholarship and aid money runs short. Jay proposed investing money to keep these kids in school. The column has generated a significant amount of email and Jay has thrown the topic open for discussion over at Admissions 101:

drrico weighed in with this:

There has been an increase at my college in the number of students pleading for aid adjustments, and it's invariably because there is some hardship affecting the family (mother lost her job, father has been hospitalized, etc.) and the family has no Plan B. These are families that also have problems paying the mortgage and the electric company. It's no surprise that they also have problems paying the tuition bill.
Colleges are more forgiving than most businesses when it comes to carrying unpaid balances. But in the end the recession affects college students too, and I don't think there's anything special about the economics of college that can, or should, shield them from it.

By Washington Post Editors  | August 11, 2009; 1:55 PM ET
Categories:  Admissions 101  | Tags:  college admissions, underprivileged students  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Metro Monday: Here's a Wise Investment: Help Students Who Need Money to Finish College
Next: Jay on the Web: Pitfalls for Poor Students, Pt. 2


Some colleges handle the economic crisis better than others. Harvard University is offering free tuition for honor students (HS) from families earning less than $60K/year.

These undergraduate students from low-income families can go to Harvard for free. no tuition and no student loans!

To find out more about Harvard offering free tuition for families making less than $60,000 a year, visit Harvard's financial aid website at: call the school's financial aid office at (617) 495-1581.

Posted by: cc222 | August 11, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

The Harvard plan is great, but we are also talking about a university with the world's largest endowment (over $25 billion), and a private-university. The real concern is at public universities, where lower tax revenues means less support for the university. And let's face it most students go to public universities, less than 1% of all college students are able to attend Harvard or a university that is that generous. Perhaps Harvard should spread the wealth to UMASS!

Posted by: jro1 | August 11, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

You could use a good proofreader -- underprivileged, dispel. Perhaps one of those underprivileged students at a public university could use a part-time job. ;)

Posted by: rozzzzzzy | August 11, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

We are also talking about only honors students at Harvard who have families that make less than 60k a year, a fairly small subset of an already small population. With Harvard's endowment it could easily pay tuition for all students without taking a hit.

As jro1 said, the real problem is for public universities and private colleges, both of which are dependent on funding. Sometimes that funding comes from the State, sometimes directly from tuition. The universities are already having to institute furloughs for employees. Additional financial aid is though.

The biggest evil of the system is debt. These students are graduating with amounts of debt that make it impossible for them to pursue what they really want to do. What if they need an internship to improve their hireability. They are left no room to flounder before being crushed under massive debt in a job market that hardly welcomes them.

Posted by: hiatt1 | August 11, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

How gracious of Harvard who should be ashamed charging any tuition given the size of their fat endowments over the decades.

Not everybody needs or should go to college. Maybe this recession will carve away some of the dumbed down useless majors that too many kid's have wasted money on. Women studies, anyone?

Maybe we can get back to treating college as a serious academic endeavor, one that has a career endpoint instead of just finding yourself for too many or an extension of all that you should have learned in high school. That's going to be the lesson of this recession.

Posted by: onecent100 | August 11, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

For those discussing the enormous Harvard endowment, perhaps you didn't catch the article in the August Vanity Fair (with Heath Ledger on the cover).

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | August 11, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Recession or not, it was very difficult for me to stay afloat during college.

I came in on a full ride, which I lost after migraines got the best of my gpa. I had a 2.7 my first semester. By the end of my probation period, I had a 3.29, just shy of the 3.3 required to keep my scholarship.

I became a teller with a local bank, a sales position that added a heap of stress to a 21-credit courseload, and signed on for federal work study. Not enough.

I prayed and struggled, and the money came, sometimes really miraculously. And I graduated on time with honors and without a job. (I landed a GREAT one later).

Notwithstanding, there are students who just don't have my blessings. A big problem I can see with plans like Harvard's, which is phenomenal yet overdue in my eyes, is the lack of funding for room and board, food, and supplies. If these students are as poor as we were, and if Harvard and Boston are as expensive as I know they are, those are huge expenses.

Students, poor or otherwise, need to have plans B, C, and D for good measure. Whatever the prospects of losing aid, it would be tremendously helpful to have a backup, even if it's not solid. To me, the way that you fall is a good predictor of how you will land. When one falls, landing on one's feet can be painful, but landing on one's back can be fatal.

Posted by: alaiyo626 | August 11, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

As the mother of a college freshman (and the holder of a BA -- minor in Women's Studies; MA and soon-to-be JD) I'm amazed at how plush student habitats have become. When I went to college in 1986 dorms were spartan and often not air conditioned, even in Virginia. Tile floors, one communal bath for 30 residents, tiny closets, and bunk beds were the rule. And we did just fine.

In the past couple of years, I've toured just about every Virginia public university and some of the private ones, too. The dorms are lavish! Wall-to-wall carpet, high ceilings (or even tray ceilings!), big closets, one bath for 4 residents, no bunk bed. Some are nicer than my first house.

I recently looked into dorm costs at Richard Bland College, a 2-year JUNIOR college south of Richmond. The cost just for the dorm (no food plan) for one year was over $8,000! Astounding.

Bring back Spartan living conditions! It is a right of passage to live with minimal comfort, in a shoebox. Keep college cheap by keeping undergraduate living as modest as possible.

Posted by: truly1 | August 11, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Those aged 18-20 are adults and not "kids" or "teens", meaning they can't be called those terms without exception. The writer of the article is ageist because the writer called college students "kids". A university students choice to stay in university is only one of the student, and again the writer of the article was ageist by saying that those students don't have a choice.

Posted by: LibertyForAll | August 11, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

I need to dispel your misspelling of "dispel." The word "dispel" is spelled with one L. That is the only correct way to spell "dispel"; there is no such word as "dispell," which might imply two spellings, despite the disposition of the desperate to dispense with dispassionate discourse for an occasional spell. Please dispel your misspellings. After all, what kind of example are we setting for the children in an education column?

Posted by: jdsher00 | August 12, 2009 12:09 AM | Report abuse

Higher ed should be just as subject to economic cycles as any other entity. We throw money at higher ed; they raise prices with immunity. If the market can't pay, cut costs and lower prices or go out of business. Then maybe those with college degrees would be scarce enough that their degrees would actually have tangible value.

Posted by: gbooksdc | August 12, 2009 8:53 PM | Report abuse

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