BY SAVANNAH RHEINHART, Editor-in-Chief
Sincehis time in office, President Obama has made the goal of affordable education a priority. With the student loan forgiveness plan and more recently, the Two-Year College Proposal, it seems as if solutions are trying to be found for the problem that is student loan debt. Unfortunately, any concrete and long-term solution seems far off in the distance.
Over the past few months, you would have been likely to find me spending a few days a week in the Office of Financial Aid, trying to clear up confusion about my student loans and other aid. It turns out that registering for your last semester of college is the most difficult. Maybe it’s just the university having trouble letting go, like the mother of an only child.
As you can only imagine, I was beginning to get slightly perturbed about the constant back and forth, both on the phone and in person. I mean, I can only listen to that “muzak” for so long before getting violent. Every time I thought I was finally set, had tuition paid for, and was going to register for classes, something held me up and the process began all over again. By the end of December, perturbed turned into revenge-fueled fury.
Then, last week, I finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel. I received a phone call saying that if I went to the Cashier’s office and paid a tuition late fee, I would be in the clear and could finally register for my last semester of classes. While not being happy about paying any more money toward my already outrageously priced “priceless” degree, I was more than delighted to clear up the situation and move on. But, having everything go so smoothly wouldn’t make for a great story, would it?
I’ll set the stage for you: a lovely young student is standing in line at the Cashier’s office, prepared with cash, a student ID, the necessary paperwork, and the overwhelming urge to be helpful, in order to clean up the mess. If you would’ve told me what was going to happen next, I would not have believed you.
I walk up to the window and explain that there is a hold on my account due to tuition payment late fees. I hand over my student ID, as well as the form that states all the necessary information from the Office of Financial Aid, and the money owed. Let me preface by saying that while I am young, I am also very much in control of my own finances and education, both of which are quite independent from my parents. The staff member at Cashier’s then immediately put both of her hands up and said “I can’t touch ANY of this without the appropriate approval from financial aid.” I calmly explain to her my situation again and how the forms were the approval. She then asked if my parents could possibly come in and “deal with” the situation. Not only am I the one responsible for these things in my life, I am also an adult. If the roles were reversed, it would be absurd to ask a woman over forty if her parents could handle it, and the same should be said for me.
She then made me wait while she called the OFA. This was directed by a hand wave to the side and an attitude. At this point, my general cool and quiet demeanor changed. I’m not sure if she was so rude and disrespectful because I was young, or because she saw that I was struggling financially. Either way, it was inexcusable.
After waiting for over fifteen minutes, she proceeded to say that she is going to have the OFA call me and clear this up because she was unable to “deal with it”. Not only was it just lovely hearing my need to register for classes as something to “deal with”, but I was assured that I had the proper paperwork to proceed.
I left in a voice-raised huff and waited for my phone call. An hour passed, then two. Finally, I decided to call. It turns out that she never made a phone call or left a message with the office. I’m just assuming the moment I left the window, any concerns I had left her mind.
Luckily, for both my sanity and her ear, everything was cleared up. The OFA was extremely helpful and showed actual concern for my situation, unlike the Cashier’s office. To me, the worst part of all of this was my disappointment. I have gone to this university for almost five years and have never been treated so poorly. Faculty, staff, and administrators have always treated me, and the other students, with respect. I was honestly shocked by the way things developed.
While you could say that the moral of this story is about respect and human decency, it’s so much more than that. It’s about young people in this country, unable to afford higher education. We are constantly told that we need to work hard, get an education, and be productive members of society. Yet, we are left alone without any help to pay back upwards of $100,000 for a degree which won’t guarantee a job.
The University of Michigan-Dearborn may be my community, but it’s clear that in the United States, college education is a business. They want to make money on what could now be said is a necessity. It’s obvious that there needs to be a change, but I don’t think that change lies in loan forgiveness programs. It’s more fundamental than that; it begins with the attitude held by for-profit universities. The Two-Year College Proposal could be the start of truly affordable higher education in this country, but it’s only the beginning.