“We’ll figure it out,” my dad said after an arduous conversation during a car ride home about the logistics of applying for financial aid at Columbia.
It was May 2011, just after I was admitted, and paying for such an expensive school had only recently—and suddenly—started to feel real, both for myself and for my family. Like all students here, my financial situation is unique, and while I count myself lucky in that my parents are willing to contribute to my education at all, that doesn’t mean paying for college has been (or will be) an easy process. The knowledge that I am burdening my parents and myself with large loans is enough to make my mind race at night—just as the same knowledge, I know, weighs on so many students at Columbia.
In retrospect, my decision to apply to an expensive, if prestigious, college such as Columbia seems entirely and naively separated from considerations of the prospective cost of attending. I remember endlessly repeating to my dad the mantra that I inferred from Columbia’s mailings and website—an education at Columbia was not supposed to be prohibitively expensive. If your family couldn’t afford to pay, Columbia would help you make it work.
Of course, this is not exactly the case. Columbia is an institution concerned with its own financial health as much as—and probably more—than with my family’s, or your family’s, or any Columbia student’s family’s. And while there are a lot of good things happening here in terms of socioeconomic diversity—a high number of students on financial aid, a relatively high proportion of students on Pell Grants—frustrating dealings with the financial aid office and Student Financial Services, difficulties in obtaining a work-study job, and the inability to buy books or even to eat on the money Columbia deems sufficient, are, for too many students, inherent challenges in choosing to attend Columbia.
In this week’s lead story, David Salazar investigates what Columbia does to support socioeconomic diversity and what work has yet to be done—for students from low-income backgrounds, for our first-generation college students, and for students who expect an equitable price for college overall. And even if financing college has never presented a challenge for you and your family, that’s a goal we can all sympathize with.