Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Classism in the college application process: why fee waivers are not enough

As I work through the college application process with my students, I have flashbacks to my own application process:

It was winter break 2005 and I spread out all of my college application materials across our expansive kitchen island. I had been rejected from the school I applied early decision to and it was cram time. In about a week I managed to crank out 11 applications which we then sent overnight express to each campus. I have a distinct memory of my mom being around during this whole process. I know that part of the reason was for moral support, another part was because I had her look over all of my applications and essays before I considered them final, but another reason was because she was the keeper of the check book, and each application required a check.

Luckily, most schools have come to the realization that for low income students especially, a $35-$55 application fee is simply not feasible, and they allow/provide fee waivers for students who are receiving free/reduced price lunch. My students would not be able to apply to nearly as many colleges if they were required to pay the application fees for all of them and I am glad that these types of provisions are in place to promote equal access to higher education.

Unfortunately, there are still costs that have yet to be fully addressed, especially by many more elite/selective schools. I have one student who is applying to a number of incredibly selective schools, many of which I applied to or considered applying to. While all schools require official ACT/SAT test scores, most will accept the scores as reported on student transcripts. Others will often accept a copy of the reports we have mailed to our organization's office. Today I had to deal with a school that accepts nothing but the official score reports sent from the testing website.

The process for sending official ACT score reports goes like this: When students register to take the ACT, they can send up to 4 score reports for free along with their registration. After they've taken the test and received their scores, reports cost an additional $10 per report, per test, per school. My student has taken the ACT 4 times; two of which he was able to take for free using a fee waiver, but the other two he paid nearly $50 each to take. The college in question requires students to sign an agreement that they will submit the official reports from every test taken. This would be a $40 cost for my student (one for each of the ACT tests he took). After explaining the situation to admissions staff, I was able to get them to agree to accept just the reports from the tests my students want considered, but he will still have to pay for the reports from those tests. What about the students who do not have an advocate?

It is incredibly difficult to talk with my students about the fees and costs related to college applications. For many of my students, the decision ends up being between paying for an additional score report(s) and giving their 1-3 hours of wages to their family or into their savings account for college. These fees are ridiculous and could be the difference between a qualified student applying to a college or not. As an higher income student, I had the luxury to apply to as many schools as I wanted, send scores to as many schools as I wanted to, an complete applications on my own time line since my parents covered all of the costs and fees. Low income students do not have such luxury. Even when fees can be waived, these students have limited time frames to get things completed and submitted or a limited number of reports they can get. I don't believe that we can consider access to higher education to be equal until students of all income backgrounds really do have the same opportunities.

I find it particularly frustrating to see these policies being implemented to schools that claim to be committed to economic diversity on their campus. These schools identify themselves as being ready to meet full financial need of their admitted students, yet they cannot comprehend the financial burden of applying to their institutions.

No comments:

Post a Comment