Castleton students describe the struggle of paying for college
Auburn Sendra maintains a busy schedule. The media and communication senior works mornings in the tech office in Leavenworth Hall, evenings at the Fireside Café, and holds an internship at PEGTV, working two days a week, five to six hours each day.
Additionally, as an Army cadet, Sendra spends one weekend each month doing drills for ROTC. This is all juggled with full-time enrollment at Castleton.
Sendra utilizes her father’s GI Bill for her education. While it covers 90% of her tuition, she pays the rest herself and must cover room and board and other fees. The time commitment is daunting, and the assistance is limited, but without any of it, Sendra sees herself paying a ton of debt in the future and being unable to achieve her goals as soon as possible.
Sendra’s scenario is one of many examples of how Castleton students are finding ways to pay for college and life in general. As tuition prices have skyrocketed across the United States, more students are relying on support systems such as the military, family connections, an outside job or sometimes, all four.
Despite the demanding schedule, Sendra said she prefers the structure and productivity. To deter stress, she tackles more rigorous tasks first and moves on from there. Additionally, a lot of her social circles revolve around her activities, so there is less of a worry in terms of balancing work life with her personal life.
“If I’m busy, then I’m good. If I’m not busy, then I kind of get caught up in stuff, and tend to get more off track and less productive,” she said.
Other students find it overwhelming to balance schoolwork while sustaining income. Colt Billings, a sophomore history major, works at Big Lots three to four nights a week after class and commutes from North Clarendon. Although he receives scholarships and doesn’t pay for room and board, he said he meticulously plans his week out and his commitments sometimes interfere with his academics.
“I almost never have time for homework,” he said. “And when I do, it’s usually like, get as much done as I can, do it as fast as I can, and sometimes, I just don’t have time to get everything done.”
The National Center for Education Statistics released data on the tuition trends for public institutions, private non-profit institutions and private for-profit institutions between 1985 and 2017. Based on the Constant 2016-17 dollars, the price for both two-year and four-year public institutions rose from $7,964 for the 1985-86 academic year to $17,237 for the 2015-16 academic year. For all private non- and for-profit institutions, this number rose from $19,812 to $40,925 for 2016-17.
“It makes sense that if you want higher learning, you have to pay for it, but I don’t think it should be super expensive,” Billings added.
Some students take more extreme measures to pay for school. One junior social work major, who asked to remain anonymous, said she’s had to cash out her 401k, which she accumulated through working at a bank. It has helped cover the cost of her tuition, but she got penalized for doing this.
“That’s what’s carried me through the last year,” she said.
Other students, like freshman Charlotte Morrison, rely on tuition remission. Her mother, Heather, is a senior associate registrar for Castleton, so she doesn’t have to pay tuition. She said without it, trying to cover the costs for her education would be more difficult.
“It would be pretty rough,” she said.
Heather Morrison cited tuition remission as one of the biggest factors for her decision to work for Castleton in 2003. Although both her children were young at the time, she said she knew it would put less pressure on them to get a scholarship or work while balancing classes.
“It’s one of the best benefits of working here,” she said. “They have the ability to go to any of the Vermont state schools.”
The benefits of tuition remission vary by school. Stephanie Cleveland, assistant registrar for Castleton, whose son is a sophomore at the university and whose daughter is a junior at the University of Vermont, said UVM only provides need-based scholarships, not merit-based. So, her daughter receives the waiver and enough scholarships to attend school virtually for free, while her son, who doesn’t qualify for merit-based scholarships because he doesn’t live on campus, pays extra fees.
Additionally, Cleveland pays a tax on the scholarships. She will pay a tax on the tuition waiver should her children choose to attend graduate school as well. At the same time, however, this option is more viable for her.
“It’s still much less than paying for the tuition,” Cleveland said.
Another benefit is that her son has flexibility in choosing his career path, and he is more able to determine what he wants to study compared to other students.
“He can make mistakes now and it’s not gonna cost him anything, where, someone who doesn’t have tuition waiver would cost them money,” Cleveland said.
The tuition waiver lasts through the end of the year of the student’s 25th birthday. The rule applies when the student attends graduate school as well.
Democratic presidential candidates, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have relentlessly campaigned for free or affordable post-secondary education, and the feelings are mutual among Democrats. A survey published by the New York Times in 2019 showed 34.7% of participants favored the American government making college more affordable, with most families having to pay for it; while 30.5% said the government should make public colleges free for all Americans, regardless of income.
Cleveland and Morrison were hesitant towards the idea of free college. They said their biggest concerns were paying for it and the students’ motivation to attend.
Morrison added that a bigger issue is the pressure to go to college, and advocates for young adults to take time to figure out what they want to do.
“Students have to want to do it,” Morrison said. “Free tuition’s great, but if they’re not really fully invested, interested, they’re not gonna go.”
Sendra on the other hand stated support for this concept. She explained she thinks it could encourage young people to attend college, especially those who can excel at an institution but are reluctant to attend.
“It sucks when you see somebody who has so much potential, but ends up not going to school because they can’t afford it and they know that they’re going to be in debt up to their eyes for the rest of their life,” Sendra said.