Of Course UChicago Isn’t a Charity

Discussions about financial aid need more nuance.

By Rebekah Lippens

I was greatly disappointed by the recent Viewpoints article “UChicago Isn’t a Charity” (04/05/16) for a variety of reasons. I was upset that this article was perhaps the only dialogue I have seen in a long time calling for any sort of change to the financial aid program.

I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s premise that the University absolutely needs to offer more financial aid. I also wish that he would have reflected within his column an awareness of the progress that UChicago has made toward making attendance possible for low-income students—the Odyssey scholarship program and the more recent No Barriers initiative are all without doubt steps in the right direction. I myself, like many students here, would never have been able to attend this school were it not for my financial aid package.

That said, I also wish that the article had been less cavalier in its treatment of why financial aid should even exist. I do not think that debating the existence of financial aid at a school that costs $65,000 a year is a discussion that we need to have or one that really pushes us forward in any way—unless it is situated within a far larger discussion of how financial aid’s justifications should affect the ways that it is awarded to students. This is the more important discussion, and I was deeply disappointed that it represented such a tiny part of the article.

I do not feel as though everyone understands what it feels like to fear the numbers at the bottom of the screen when your yearly financial aid award comes back, or the sense of helplessness when your quarterly interest statement includes your current loan totals. There are things that are now and will be for some time completely impossible for me financially that I watch so many of my peers treat casually. I have loved my time at this University and have never regretted the decision to come here. It does, however, as both the article and the cartoon it was paired with suggest, become difficult not to feel angry when the University treats millions of dollars almost flippantly as they found new institutes and grow their real estate empire when a few more thousand dollars a year would change my life.

My family is solidly middle class, which I readily and fully admit is a privilege, but it also means that I do not qualify for a lot of the University’s really great scholarship programs. I take a full course load and spend more time at work than I do in the classroom, which oftentimes has forced me to make sacrifices in my studies for work. What I find upsetting about this situation is that despite everything I do, I still cannot pay my way through college the way that my parents’ generation could. This, I think, is the most alarming trend in college costs and financial aid’s inability or unwillingness to keep up with them: it is no longer possible to get through college in a fiscally responsible way for many students coming from families below a certain income level.

There are a lot of conversations that we could and should be having about the way the University approaches financial aid. Every one of them is deeper than contemplating the differences between financial aid and charity. That article, despite its many flaws, was aiming for a commendable goal. However, as someone whose life is in every way affected by financial aid, I just wish it had not missed the mark so entirely.

Rebekah Lippens is a second-year in the College double majoring in English and religious studies.