Brandeis graduates speak about financial issues at Brandeis

March 15, 2019

Two Brandeis graduates co-led a talk discussing the issues that lower income students face at “elite” colleges such as Brandeis, and how some of the issues they had could be solved. Gwendolyn Berumen ’16 and Zuri Gordon ’15 gave the talk, titled “Poor Kid at the Rich School: The Cost of Diversity,” at a conference aimed at school and college leaders according to an EdSurge article.

There has been a larger increase in tuition fees than in median household income, at 2.3 percent and 0.8 percent (adjusted for inflation) respectively, according to the College Board.

Gordon shared in the EdSurge article that her struggle with college began during the application process. She got into a few highly-selective colleges, hoping that her family would be proud and excited for her, however those were not the reactions she got: “my mother would not care—she would say, ‘You’re not going to go there, we can’t afford that,’” said Gordon in the article. She added however that “now [she] can see [her mother] was trying to protect [Gordon] from getting [her] hopes up.”

Gordon said that just getting accepted into college did not mean that she would be able to get a higher education. Only after getting the acceptances and the financial aid did Gordon say that she truly understood  “what level of low-income [her] family was because they could not pay more than $1,000 a year,” she said in the EdSurge article.

That was when her college counselor told her that she would likely pay less at a private institution than at a state college with lower prices but less scholarship opportunities, because of the scholarships and tuition discounts for first-generation and minority students. This is how Gordon ended up at Brandeis, according to the EdSurge article.

Gordon and Berumen said that challenges occurred even during the application process, because their parents could not help them and information was hard to find. Language was another issue they encountered: Berumen said she “didn’t know how to talk about FAFSA in Spanish.”

Brandeis did attempt to welcome Berumen and some other first-generation students by flying them in during the application process for a “diversity weekend,” where a variety of multicultural events occured. However, upon arriving to campus it did not feel very welcoming: “it was a little bit of false advertising … they’re kind of lying about what’s happening there,” she told EdSurge.

After beginning their undergraduate studies, both became activists for more resources. This was challenging, however, and often distracted them from their studies. A member of the audience also pointed out that a major struggle is learning how to advocate for yourself: he himself “would lose out on things because [he] didn’t know how to open [his] mouth,” she told EdSurge.

After Gordon and Berumen graduated they said that both struggled with finding a job and understanding the debt they got into to be able to attend college. Berumen noted that she “did not think about student loans for one second” while being at Brandeis, although she did have to take an online course about the debt, while getting close to graduation. Now having to pay back $30,000, Berumen felt scared. They also were not satisfied with the way the alumni network of Brandeis and other similar institutions work, claiming in the EdSurge article that they do not help all students equally.

Berumen highlighted that they had “a difficult experience, and we don’t want that to happen to other students.” They both felt that the campus was designed for students of greater means, and not for them. Both also want to push Brandeis and other colleges to be more welcoming to students like them. Gordon works at the Juilliard School in New York City, while Berumen works at the Dallas County Community College district.

Menu Title