• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Aid Shock

When aid packages don't add up.

January 16, 2019
 
 

The Boy is in the thick of the college application process. He has sent applications to eight colleges, which is his complete list.  He has received word from four, all acceptances, with the other four still unreported. So far, so good.

But these days, admissions is a two-step process. The first step is getting in. He’s doing well at that, as he should. I know I have Dad Goggles, but he’s a terrific student in ways that people in higher ed understand. Any given school can go any which way, but he should do well generally, and he is. The second step involves getting the aid package and figuring out whether it’s realistic. He heard back from one of his top choices; it quoted a “this is what you’re responsible” figure that was $26,000 per year above our EFC, which, itself, is improbably high. Taken as a whole, the package is farcical. A second quoted figures that aren’t quite as extreme, but still aren’t particularly reality-bound. The others delay aid notification until March.

TB is suffering from aid shock. Frankly, so am I.

He’s more frustrated about it, probably because he’s seventeen and he’s the one who has been working so hard.  I try to convey that he’ll be fine, but it’s hard to hear when you’re in the thick of it. If I remember the teen years accurately, vague assurances from middle-aged parents weren’t terribly convincing.  He inherited that, which I guess is fair in a larger, cosmic sense.

He also inherited the “I have to get the hell out of here” gene. I remember it clearly enough not to be offended. It’s a sign of ambition, and that’s a good thing.  He wants to spread his wings, and I want him to have the chance. Brookdale is out because it’s local, and because he’d be known there as somebody’s kid, rather than as himself.  He wants to make his own path.

I’ll admit being at a loss to explain the “EFC plus 26k” “award.” It’s obvious from our financials that we couldn’t come close to doing that.  Honestly, a rejection would have been cleaner. Saying “you’re in, but only on terms you could never possibly accept” is just mean.  And it’s from a school that can’t plead poverty with any credibility.

At least in his case, he has parents who have graduate degrees, and one who works in the industry.  We can help him decode some of it. A similar kid with parents who aren’t as familiar with how it works, or as attuned, could make a bad decision and not even know it. 

He still has four step ones and six step twos to go, so I’m hopeful that something more reality-based is in the offing.  But for now, he’s beside himself, and I’m appalled at what some well-known places are pulling. This is not how it should be done.

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