The Truth About Financial Aid: Who Gets It?
By Laura Matteri
Millions of college students apply for financial aid each year. Weeks later, a financial package may come in the mail stating the amount of money that the government is giving to them. Thousands of students raise the question of, “What decides how much we get?”
Marymount Manhattan College student, Melissa Markowich, said that she feels students still pay more than they should for school, despite financial aid. When asked about how she feels about financial aid distribution, she replied, “A lot of people don’t understand it. It’s really unfair. Some people get it who shouldn’t and there are a lot of kids who need financial aid and don’t get it.”
Markowich joins the hundreds of students at Marymount receiving financial aid, but she still feels uneasy about the process. She is the only child in her family enrolled in college right now. However, when she attends a school that costs $30,000 per year to attend, she, as well as many others, wishes the selection process would be revised.
The first step to applying for financial aid is filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In this application, the applicant answers a series of questions regarding the students’ and the parents’ information regarding school history, family history, work history, as well as any other helpful records.
The FAFSA application goes through the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is what the government decides that the family can contribute towards education based on the state of residence, household size, number in college, and student and parent income.
These figures are sent to each school to which the student is applying. The school then establishes the Cost of Attendance (COA). This includes tuition, room and board, fees, and estimated expenses (books and personal supplies). The school then determines the financial aid that the student will receive.
In the financial aid packet, if a student is eligible, they will receive work-study. The student will apply for a job within the school and receive a paycheck. The student is expected to save the paycheck and put the money towards paying for their tuition. The student is granted a certain amount of work-study, measured in dollar amounts, per semester.
University of Vermont student, Jennifer Swain, doesn’t believe the money is distributed fairly. “It’s not. Period. If it were fair, I would be getting a full ride.” She went on to describe the hardships that her family has gone through in the last year, including her father filing for bankruptcy, her parents’ divorce, and her mother’s unemployment.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, of the students enrolled in the 2003-2004 school year, 63% of all undergraduates received some form of financial aid. Fifty-one percent of undergraduates received grants, and 35% took out loans. Federal grants were the most likely grants to be distributed, rather than institutional grants and state grants.
Then there are students like Casey Polcari. She doesn’t receive any financial aid, and that may be due in part to her family income. However, she is one of four children in her family enrolled in college. This includes her twin brother who attends Penn State. Is it fair that her family receives no financial aid for any of their children? With no work-study and no financial aid in any way, Polcari is frustrated with the system. How is her family expected to pay for four children’s tuition costs at once? Not to mention Polcari has one more sibling who still has a few years left until college.
“It makes me feel bad because that’s a lot of money to pay with no financial aid. Pretty much all of my mom’s money that she makes from her own business goes to college payments,” Polcari said.
Financial aid is meant to help families pay for college. However, it still creates problems for many families. The government doesn’t see the underlying costs that a family has. Debts and personal commitments do not factor into the distribution of monetary assistance. Perhaps the much-awaited response from colleges can take its time, after all.