“eeeewwww, poor people!”
Score one for the bad guys. I am seldom shocked anymore but even I was startled by this one. A recent story published at gothamist.com reports on a recent slew of phone calls from the New York
University (NYU) to low-income families whose kids had gained acceptance for college to NYU just to remind them how expensive it is to attend NYU. The story reports that officials at NYU, which will distribute $175 million in financial aid in the next school year, say the phone calls were simply intended to make sure families understood their often complex financial aid packages. This was also confirmed and strongly condemned by the NYU school newspaper.
From what I’ve gathered now, NYU calls these poor low-income families and tells them, “it’s expensive here” and at best makes sure that they understand how much of a debt burden they will be taking on. I can think of a few things that are not right (even for academia) with this picture. First of all, everyone did not get this phone call, just low-income families. It doesn’t take a genius to see why this would be offensive as the assumption seems to be that low-income families, perhaps by virtue of their low-income and socioeconomic class, are unable to even contemplate a number as big as $50,000 per year. Oooooo–that’s so much money, I can’t even begin to understand what it means! You know, this really does piss me off. I’ve always felt that education should be accessible to anyone who was willing to work for it. And as much as I used to bitch and moan about how much my university was giving me in financial aid and how much I had to borrow, the system did sort of work. Yes, I was able to afford going to an expensive college but was I able to eat steak for dinner every night? No. I ate at the dining hall everyday (where rumor has it the food was laced with baking soda to make the students feel full on less food but that’s another story) and I had to cut out a lot of frills. So what NYU appears to doing, in my opinion, is shear elitist intimidation and bullying. These kids got into NYU and they clearly had loan packages to go there but instead of being recruited, their lack of money is being thrown in their faces. As if these people didn’t know they come from a low-income family. Unbelieveable. As many have already pointed out these phone calls–while not directly pressuring these families–are just adding more pressure that these families must be feeling from their finances–a sentiment that has been echoed by some of the students whose families have received these phone calls from NYU.
But as disgusting as I find NYU’s actual behavior, I find it even worse in light of the fact that they could be helping instead! Rather than bullying low-income families and “reminding” them of how expensive it is for their child to go to NYU, they should be educating these families on the different ways of that education can be funded through grants and reasonable educational loans. The “ins” and “outs” of financial aid are complicated–no question–and in my experience not really accessible to anyone who doesn’t work in a financial aid office. As I am about to graduate from medical school, I now have to deal with all of those college loans I deferred for eight years. Painful–not just the amount I owe but also all of the rules, forms, deadlines, etc. I’ve been lucky that the financial aid office at our medical school has been really helpful in explaining things to me and hooking me up with the right people. But this experience has also taught me that when financial aid is explained in the right way, all of the options and possibilities can be much clearer. In the past, our financial aid office even alerted me when there were grants available that I was eligible for. Over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot of free money out there that most people don’t know about. Financial aid offices are gold mines. These people are plugged in. Talk to them–they can tell you about grants (free money) that you’ve never heard of. That is, when the university isn’t busy trying to scare you into not going there. I can’t say that I’ve talked personally to any of the kids or their low-income families that were contacted by NYU but in no story that I’ve read (including the responses from the NYU representatives) have I seen anything about the university also offering to provide guidance on how these families could afford to send their kids to NYU. This is just disgusting. I personally hope that I have misinterpreted what I have read or that I haven’t gotten a hold of the whole story but I’m skeptical that is the case. But such a bold-faced and apparent attempt to weed out kids from low income families is appalling.
NYU, help these families–don’t turn them away! Shame on any college or university that turns away students who have been accepted with financial aid packages through the lowest forms of intimidation aimed at those who need help the most.