Barnard's senior fund co-chairs announced last week that a large portion of this year's senior class gift will go to Bear Essentials, the college's supplemental financial aid program. The fund provides money to cover necessities—such as bedding and winter clothes—that can put a serious financial strain on low-income students, because these necessities are not covered by Barnard's regular financial aid. The senior fund is hoping to raise $30,000 and will donate 75 percent of the money raised to Bear Essentials.
Columbia's other undergraduate schools should follow Barnard's lead by establishing similar funds for their students. Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science have some of the best financial aid packages in the country—Columbia claims to match 100 percent of need. This financial aid goes mostly toward covering tuition and room and board, but it does not provide for many of these kinds of relatively small but overlooked expenditures that are necessary for life in New York—which are more expensive here than in other places. For students in the School of General Studies, who recieve far less financial aid, this need is even more dire.
Currently, it is assumed that CC and SEAS students will need only $3,028 per year for "books and personal expenses." But "personal expenses" here only accounts for average travel from Columbia to a student's hometown. But for many students, this is hardly the end of the expenses that they will incur at Columbia. Whether it's winter coats, pens and notebooks, or kitchenware, students' needs are not limited to textbooks and plane tickets.
Although work-study covers these costs for some students, many must use their wages to meet the student contribution requirement and are left with little to no money for personal expenses. This mandatory student contribution affects nearly all students on financial aid, and is very difficult to get out of. Having to work long hours to pay for these essentials, or going without them, can negatively impact a student's academic performance and social life.
Be it through a senior class gift or a few larger donations from individual donors, a relatively small amount of money could go a long way in providing students with much-needed money for bedding, clothing, and books. Donors would be able to see immediate, tangible impacts of their contributions on current students, and the Barnard senior classes' repeated votes to fund Bear Essentials indicate that it has broad student support. As it gets colder and many of us retreat farther under our layers of blankets and thick jackets, we should be sure that all of our fellow students can do the same.
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