Scholarships are not sufficient to make Brandeis affordable

March 15, 2019

The scandals that have recently inundated mainstream news about wealthy parents paying universities to admit their children represent a well-known secret that plagues the American university system. Students coming from a wealthy background have a better chance of going to college. This is a fact, not merely due to access to better high school and grade school education but because many families in the bottom 60 percent of income simply cannot afford to send their children to college. While wealthy parents throw away money they can very well spare bribing their child’s way into a spot they do not deserve, lower/middle class, working and low income parents struggle to send their child to any college at all, even when the student gains admission based on their own merits.

An article in The New York Times found that 38 universities in America have more students in the top one percent than the bottom 60 percent. In addition, less than one half of students from the bottom one-fifth attend any college.

Although Brandeis has more students from the bottom 60 percent than the top one percent (24.3 percent to 7.2 percent, respectively), students from the lower end of the income scale have reported feeling isolated within the Brandeis community. Various programs make up the majority of lower-income students at Brandeis. These programs are small, however, and tend to disconnect members from the rest of the student body.

The Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program (MKTYP), The Leonard Bernstein Fellowship, the Humanities Fellowship, the Waltham Scholarship, TRiO Student Support Services (SSSP), Posse and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship, among others, are all Brandeis programs that grant hefty scholarships to lower-income applicants.

For international students, the Wien International Scholarship Program (WISP), Toshizo Watanabe International Scholarship Program (TWISP), Richard and Barbara Silverman Endowed Scholarship and Brandeis-Canada Endowed Scholarship offer opportunities for international students to attend Brandeis at a low cost.

Despite the many programs that Brandeis offers for lower-income students, these financial aid packages are not enough due to the unseen costs of university living. Textbooks, food, laundry and printing are all expenses that are treated as inconsequential by students with wealthier backgrounds. These can make college unaffordable for students without those resources. In addition, going out for dinner or any other social activity that friends might suggest offhand can be impossible for a lower-income student to attend due to financial limitations. This contributes to the isolation that these students might feel at Brandeis or any other university heavily populated by students coming from wealthy families.

Brandeis alumni established many of the financial aid programs that currently exist at the university, and this process continues as more students from lower-income families graduate and return to help those in a similar situation. These programs need to become more holistic, however, not merely covering tuition or housing but also textbooks and any other life needs that students have trouble meeting with their own limited resources. For example, academic departments could create programs devoted to providing resources for students in need of textbooks. The library could increase the number of copies of reserve books and create focused research help pertaining to financial access.

Tuition at Brandeis is expensive, and rising every year. Tuition, however, is only part of the expense incurred by students at Brandeis or any university, and future financial programs can improve the lives of their beneficiaries by covering their additional needs.

Recent news reports and scandals have laid bare the disparity between the opportunities of children from wealthy families and those from lower income families. This disparity has always existed in the academic world, but very few people openly acknowledge how dramatically it impacts the upward mobility of the lower and working classes and how much it isolates students in the bottom 60 percent. Curbing corruption and bribery in university admissions is just the beginning; true equality in educational opportunity can only occur once we close the gap between the financial abilities of the top 40 percent and the financial limitations of the bottom 60 percent.

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