Billed to Tears: I can’t afford Goucher

By: Destiny Lugardo

The quintessential small liberal arts college brochure is usually adorned with satisfying portraits of running trails laminated in maple red leaves, and shots of conveniently attractive groups of students who could laugh on command. The nervous high school senior would never open a brochure to see a hysterical, bleary-eyed first year student down on their knees, pleading with a billing officer to remove yet another fee as a tear fell to the carpet. Experience it yourself.

I was not down on my knees (I was willing to go that far for money) but I did cry in front of administrative personnel over my financial situation. An added fee resulting from a fault that wasn’t my own (that’s a whole other story in itself) was technically the reason why I broke down one October afternoon in Dorsey Center. A fact that I had been avoiding for too long had finally materialized in my mind: I could not afford Goucher.

When I was bored in elementary school, I sometimes counted the years of schools I had left on my fingers. I never counted past the twelfth grade. I hated everything about school: the teachers who would interrupt a lesson to check their makeup in the mirror, the students who were already two years behind who would break every utensil in my pencil case, and the lunch ladies who sent me to the back of the line and publicly shamed me for losing my free lunch ticket. Whenever I told my mother that I didn’t want to go to school, she told me that she didn’t feel like going to court. I aimed to stay in school as long as I legally had to. That changed when school began to fulfill its purpose in my life.

I was admitted into a new school with teachers that cared about my progress and encouraged me to pursue a college degree. With a newfound eagerness for learning, I challenged my intellectual abilities in high school. By the end, the focus became college. More specifically, I needed to almost exclusively apply my abilities to get into schools that had a large enough endowment to support my financial need. I did not  execute my plan perfectly, but I did find Goucher. A small school that graduates a relatively high percentage of its Pell Grant recipients was what I needed. After celebrating my accomplishments so far, I had to turn my attention to the more sombering aspects of college admittance.  

I was fully aware of the cost of a private school education when I accepted an offer to attend one. I knew that with a family of seven whose combined annual income is over $20,000 less than the total cost of attendance without aid, I had to pay for school on my own. What I didn’t know was that the overwhelming burden of being thousands of dollars in debt before reaching the legal drinking age would besiege me as much as it does. Once, I  needed to take a break while finalizing a student loan because I needed to hurl. In my first semester, I woke up almost everyday to the agonizing thought of how much my classes that I am attending that day cost.

Of course, obtaining more funds for future semesters is a priority. It will not be easy, however, to expect a favorable outcome against a school whose pocketbook is committed to lengthy construction ordeals. But even in times where I felt the most vulnerable and pathetic, crying in front of a stone-faced billing officer, I leave these moments with a greater sense of gratitude for where I am. It is a privilege to spend my first years as an adult intensely studying what I always found interesting.

I love how trivial some of my problems are. I’d rather take having to spend a few minutes in the cold for an Alice’s coffee run over commutes that span hours to a low-wage job. I’d rather be pulling all nighters in the Athenaeum than worrying about whether I could make rent to stay in my own home.

I am not alone in facing this obstacle. Yearly, thousands of low-income students including many Goucher students yearly have to reject college offers or stop attending due to significant gaps in financial need and the aid given. Even if the full need is met, statistically poorer students tend to be worse off then well to do students due to social alienation and lack of support systems. That is why at Goucher, I credit the Center for Race, Equity, and Identity for being my greatest advocator, as well as convincing me that I mattered to the school as much as the student whose parents could pay for the college’s newest dorm.

My future at Goucher is dependent not only upon numbers on a financial aid package, but whether or not I can see myself as one of those delightful faces on the front cover of the brochure.

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