Hustling for your Bachelors of Arts

By George Ploss

There are countless students living on welfare. Financial aid is exactly that. While it gives opportunities for thousands of students to go to and stay in college, in many respects, it keeps people from finishing. The constant shift of worrying about finances over schoolwork creates a effervescent climate of stress and depression for non-affluent students.

The Office of Student Financial Aid is the most volatile and emotionally unstable administrative building at every public university in the United States. It’s the place where dreams are realized or broken. If someone were to notice the facial expressions or simply the atmosphere of the office itself, they are that of confusion, worry and anxiety.

The EFC is everything. For those of you who don’t know or have your parents or an accountant fill out your financial aid packets, EFC stands for “Estimated Family Contribution.” It’s mainly based on an estimate of how much money your parent(s) make(s) and how much they can afford to give you for tuition.

If it’s zero than you get the full amount of financial aid, which here at the University leaves roughly 3,000 to 4,000 dollars of tuition unpaid. It is well-known that current financial aid hasn’t kept up with tuition increases over the years and more and more people who can’t afford college are being left out.

Even for the lucky students who have a low EFC, it’s still likely that they’ll have to take out loans to cover the difference. Since the scale is tipped in the favor of wealthier students, credit is as important to a student’s financial aid report as a textbook.

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With most students having bad, little or no credit, the hardest part of the loan process is finding a co-signer. For the poorer and mostly colored students, finding a qualified co-signer means that you’re probably going to have to ask a grandparent or good friend of the family because chances are, if your parents can’t afford to give you any money for school, they will either be averse toward signing a student loan or they simply aren’t qualified. So don’t go to college, or fight to stay in school and in debt.

When that hurdle is jumped and you’re in school, you still have living expenses and books to pay for. Rent, energy, food and phone are the basic expenses for everyone.

So you have to work. If you have a campus job, you may qualify for food stamp benefits and receive up to $150 a month on a LINK card issued by the Department of Human Services of the State of Illinois. Intake is early around 8 a.m. Monday-Thursday, so good luck dealing with the long lines and underpaid, overworked disgruntled state employees. I also hope you can come up with some creative accounting living on seven dollars an hour as an off-campus student. But if you get a job off-campus, say goodbye to the state-supported LINK card.

So you pick up two jobs and you’re barely making enough to get by. You don’t have any money to go out, eat healthy and or have a relationship, and you can’t get involved fully on campus because you’re always working or studying.

Let’s say you have a roommate. And he or she is slacking on the bills. The power bill is in your name and you get a pink slip (a notice of energy termination) because it’s spring and you couldn’t afford to pay all of winter’s heating bills working at the GAP. You take out an emergency loan from the Office of Student Financial Aid to keep the electricity on but the Internet gets shut off so you need to go to campus to e-mail and do homework.

Since you and your roommate are fighting, and you go to the Dean of Conflict Resolutions right next door to the Office of Student Financial Aid. After a meeting in which you get your roommate to sign a promissory note, you make your way downstairs for a counseling session with your girlfriend who’s breaking up with you because you work too much, are too broke and can’t spend much time with her.

After about 45 minutes of therapy you understand that you need to make drastic changes in your life and work on your time management skills.

With finals around the corner, you want to register for classes but can’t because there is a hold on your account from the emergency loan you took out to pay the electric bill.

You have to pick up extra shifts at work during finals week and your grades suffer as a result. You have to register late and end up with an awkward schedule that makes you unhirable for the fall.

Your girlfriend left you, your best friend and/or roommate owes you a considerable amount of money and you’re barely getting by with a “C” average.

Sound drastic? It does to me, because I’m a trust-fund baby. One Love.