Northwestern payment plan sets example for the nation


By Paul de Lutio

None of us students are strangers to the national rise in college tuition. For many of us, our loans and debt are among our first thoughts when we first wake up in the morning. When am I going to pay off my debt? Will I have to take out another loan? Will my degree actually pay off all of my debt?

The reality is that we all have to find a way to finance our education, and a new initiative at Northwestern University hopes to alleviate the strain loans place on the student body. The initiative will help any student who qualifies for financial aid.

Starting in the Fall of 2016, undergraduate students who have accrued a student loan debt of $20,000 will have their debt capped and will be awarded scholarships in order to pay for the rest of their education. 

The debt ceiling Northwestern is imposing will allow students to enter the workforce with a clear head, and without the stress of student loans bogging them down. Although there will still be at least $20,000 to pay off for students who qualify, some students will walk away from college six figures in debt. That’s the difference between paying off a car, and paying off a house.

Another positive outcome of this decision is the implication it could have on the current mindset of university administrations. Northwestern, along with other prestigious institutions, are often associated with the stigma that acceptance is based on the size of mom and dad’s bank account.

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    A student’s ability to pay for college could become less of a factor when applying to college, allowing merit to become the primary focus for top-tier students. Furthermore, this also implies that a student’s education is being valued as something beneficial to society rather than part of a university’s money pit.

    Although “free college” has always been a popular idea among students, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has significantly popularized the idea as part of his campaign. No one can deny that free education for all students is a lofty goal. It is a goal that is simply impractical and is more sensationalistic than realistic.

    In reality, Northwestern’s initiative is the result of a private benefactor who made an enormous donation to the school. Being a public institution, our University would have difficulty implementing a similar policy. Without the funding of a private institution, Illinois public universities have to rely heavily on the Illinois Student Assistance Commission’s Monetary Award Program to keep the cost of tuition down. Ultimately, it would be imperative for comprehensive state legislature to pass, setting us up for success early in our professional development.

    Still, the private solution that Northwestern has offered is a step in the right direction for all universities. It allows a general price tag to be set on an education and is more fair to the students that the university serves.

    College is the time of our lives where opportunity is constantly hanging over the horizon. It is novel to think that the seizure of opportunity is based solely on merit and work ethic; in many ways, it is. However, factors beyond our control often hinder our ability to achieve success.

    Many students before us have conquered overwhelming odds to achieve greatness, but imagine the scores of underprivileged individuals who were never given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

    If we wish to maximize the potential of the next generation of students, it would behoove us to minimize the impact of outside factors on students.

    So, well done, Northwestern. Let’s continue to change the broader college landscape to one that facilitates the enlightenment of all students, not just those who can afford it.

    Paul is a freshman in LAS.
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