Tuition tracker: Low-income students suffering most

Rohan Jani/Staff Writer

Students have been awestruck by rising tuition, but pair a higher sticker price with a decrease in financial aid and you have low-income students — 59 percent of FIU’s undergraduates — struggling to make ends meet. is a tool that shows what students really pay for college at more than 3,000 colleges and univerisites in the U.S., including factors like family income and financial aid and categorized by socioeconomic status.

Plug FIU into the “track” bar and you get the sticker cost of attending for four years, as well as the average net price — the amount students actually paid based on family income. The net price subtracts federal, state, local and university grants and scholarships.

A color-coded timeline displays data from 2008 to 2012. The main trend: sticker price is rising and so has the net price for low-income students, who are receiving less aid.

And the prices may have been even more expensive. Luisa Havens, vice president for enrollment, told the Miami Herald that FIU’s net prices are “misleading” in statistical value, determining a “miscalculation” in 2008-2009 statistical analyses.

Federal figures show the net price for the University’s poorest students at $1,866, while Havens said it was really $5,822.

Havens was unavailable for comment; however, students shared their financial struggles.

Political science and psychology senior Sadaf Chaudhry said, although she is an outlier, having her tuition paid in full by scholarships and grants for most of her college career, she had to pay some money out-of-pocket this semester, experiencing the decrease in aid first hand.

“I did notice that there have been reductions in funding and that credit costs have increased in the past few years,” Chaudhry said. “It’s becoming more difficult to achieve a bachelor’s without having to be knee-deep in student debt, and I’m very concerned about other students when I know that they were not as fortunate as I am and that they are struggling so much.”

According to the tracker, FIU’s sticker price was $15,870 in 2008-2009. In 2011-2012, this price was $17,565. While aid increased from 2008 to 2009 in most cases, it has since been on the decline.

Thus, while all students are paying more, those who need financial help the most have been impacted at a more intense rate.

Jasiel Lopez, a freshman in management and administration, thinks the largest argument right now is over the distribution of financial aid and how students are most affected by it when it comes to low versus high income families.

“Most students with very low income generally receive financial aid that they need, and then there are students with higher-income parents who might not require the aid but take it anyway, while leaving the lowest-tier students unqualified for aid,” Lopez said. “Low-tier students need aid the most and are desperate for it.”

Lopez commented on personal experience.

“I have to work to be able to afford my tuition,” Lopez said. “Students who have to work are in a really tough situation since employment opportunities for young adults are scarce in this economy too.”

According to the tracker, 59 percent of FIU undergraduates are low-income and receiving Pell Grant money.

Fatima Hamouda, a junior in religious studies, argues that there are more positives to high tuition than negatives, however.

“Besides the obvious cons that college tuition is expensive and that people would have to apply for small amounts of grants and scholarships, most people would have to apply regardless and still be in debt for it,” Hamouda said. “On the contrary, with larger tuition rates we have more qualified professors, better services in school, more tutoring centers, better healthcare options and so on.”

But Chaudhry proposed a solution so that student financial departments can hear her blueprint.

“There should be a priority in making federal grants more available and more accommodating to students,” Chaudhry said. “Several construction projects have already occurred at FIU that force me to question if FIU is prioritizing and allocating its funds adequately. I sometimes feel like the University is more of a shopping mall than an academic institution.”

Student Media made attempts to contact all directors within enrollment services, but none were successful.

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