Life is not as easy as Disney promised it would be. There is no yellow brick road for us to follow as students here that will guide us to success no matter who we are. In Sarah Weise’s article, “The Invisible Minority,” she addresses the very real perils of financial aid and draws conclusions that rich people should be more aware of their privilege.
Instead of trying to ask the important questions as to how to “fix” this problem of school debt, Weise goes on telling rich people how they ought to behave: “I’m here to tell wealthy students to open their eyes and appreciate their parents’ hard work, to feel lucky, and to see their education as a gift.”
Weise enjoys telling people what to do and how to think without having a true understanding of that person’s relationship or incentives. My education is not a “gift” my family is providing me. It is a contract. They are providing me with funds to attend school right now and learn so in the future I am in a position to do the same with my kids. And don’t presume to think I’m not aware of how fortunate I am, because I’ll be the first to tell.
Weise begins the article stating how she was born to a well-off family from a modest town in Pennsylvania, no doubt the group of people who identify as middle class. She reports that around 51 percent of students use UR-administered financial aid and that the other “49 percent of our student body comes from a family deemed fiscally capable of paying for college without assistance.”
She unfortunately leaves the heavy duty analysis at that. Weise focuses on the issue that 11 percent of our students come from families in the bottom 40 percent of income while 6 percent come from the top 1 percent. Weise is reportedly shocked by the realization that wealthy families are more likely to send their kids to college than poor families. But she doesn’t seem so concerned with the fact that significantly more than just 51 percent of student will end their schooling with crippling debt.
But instead of trying to talk about real issues, let’s patronize kids for being born into their wealth. And being a rich kid myself, I looked at her list of dos and don’ts, took the advice to heart, and decided to live my life according to my values, not hers.
“Do not complain about being the ‘poorest’ kid at your private high school. Do not talk about the costly international trips you’ve been on without being prompted to do so. Do not shop at Goodwill because you want to be vintage. And please, do not assume I can afford to go out to eat on Friday night because I go to this university.
Despite the dont’s, there are also do’s. Do thank your parents for providing you with a private education. Do value your international experiences on a deeper lever and share your insights when asked. Do donate your used clothes to Goodwill. And please, if you invite me out to eat and I decline because of money, gracefully propose an alternative.”
How about I judge what I deem I should say? Just because I am rich and you are not I am not going to treat you any differently, nor do I want to be treated any differently. I don’t think anyone is serious when talking about being the “poorest” in a private high school, I love talking about the different cultures I was able to visit to contribute to the conversation, I buy the dirtiest flannels I can find at Goodwill and Savers because I can, and I will ask you to dinner on Friday nights before asking you how much money you have in your bank account. I understand that bragging and “flexing” can make others feel uncomfortable but to make this an issue about wealth instead of general decency is missing the point.
How about instead of telling me to open my eyes you open yours?
The real problem isn’t that more wealthy kids are going to school than poor kids; it is that universities cost too much. According to Pell Institute research, “When American households are organized into four income groups, 24-year-olds from the top two groups accounted for 77 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2014. In 1970, that figure was 72 percent, suggesting that growing up in a wealthier household matters even more now in completing a degree than it did four decades ago.” This division of socio-economic status will always be present at universities, and it should be seen as a good thing because it promotes everything diversity stands for. What is a problem is that more and more people are left in financial ruin after their college years due to the incredulous cost of an education. Many have their opinions about why the price is unparalleled to anything we’ve ever seen before, but I’ll leave you to do your own research in that regard.
The real tragedy of the situation, for Weise and the million people who all share a similar story coming from a comfortable life with a middle class family doing the best they can, is that college leaves students with more debt than credit. We should be coming together to address that issue and not be divided because of our wealth.