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Coping With the Cost of College

Of all the uncertainties brought on as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one in particular is hitting hard for parents of teenagers: paying for college.

According to a survey by Discover Student Loans in May, 68 percent of parents of incoming college students are worried about affording college as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the same survey, 53 percent of parents reported concerns that their child was not receiving enough financial aid, and 26 percent said they planned to appeal their student’s financial aid package, both increases from pre-pandemic numbers.

Drake senior Lucia Garrett said that while her parents were not laid off due to the pandemic, it caused strain on their family finances.

“My mom runs her own insurance company that has been experiencing loss,” Garrett said. “I also wasn’t sure how I’d pay rent until I found out that since I didn’t stay on campus, I didn’t have to pay for those months.”

Already in student debt, Garrett said she found herself struggling to afford basic necessities like textbooks for the semester.

“I had a presidential scholarship and a data analytics scholarship, [but] I’ve had to take out over $50,000 in loans I think,” Garrett said. “I struggled a bit to buy textbooks, especially since I didn’t get any income from work since the library shut down.”

Though some students considered taking a gap year in wake of the pandemic, Garrett said that did not feel like an option to her.

“I’m a senior, so dropping out or transferring didn’t really feel like an option,” Garrett said.

Like Garrett, Drake student Luke Hofmann said he has scholarships that have lessened his financial burden, but he has still had to take out student loans during his time at Drake.

“I received the presidential scholarship when I was accepted into Drake my senior year of high school,” Hofmann said. “I also have now in my senior year received the Noyce Scholarship for STEM educators.”

However, Hofmann’s father was laid off as a result of the pandemic, providing a brief time of uncertainty for his family.

“My dad got laid off due to COVID. However, he very quickly got another job somewhere else,” Hofmann said. “[But] I did not get as many hours at my summer job as usual due to COVID, so making rent payments this year has been much tighter.”

According to Hofmann, the quality of online education does not match the price students are paying for tuition.

“I think the quality of lessons has dropped significantly, especially classes held online only,” Hofmann said. “I know the professors are doing the best they can, but not being in person will always drop quality.”

Garrett said she feels as though tuition costs should have been lowered this year since most classes have been moved completely online.

“Since even some of my non-fully online classes have online sessions, it really takes away a lot of the experience of talking with a group and overall feels like a worse experience that doesn’t match the price being paid,” Garrett said.

Garrett said she would like to see Drake do more to help students whose financial situations have worsened as a result of the pandemic.

“[Drake should] help with the cost of materials required to learn or help with lost job wages,” Garrett said.

Director of Financial Aid Ryan Zantingh said that Drake students had some options this year to try to ease their financial burden, including appealing their financial aid package. According to Zantingh, financial aid appeals are up 47% this year compared to the same time last year.

“We did send out a message in late summer, early fall, about the financial aid appeal and review process we have in place,” Zantingh said. “There is a form that students can complete, because the FAFSA, which is what all of our need-based financial aid information is based on, is using income information from 2018 for this academic year. So anyone that’s been impacted by COVID and income has been reduced, they can complete that application.”

Zantingh also said that the payment due date at the beginning of the year was pushed back due to the fall semester bills being sent out late.

“I know at the beginning of the year, they moved back the payment due date by, I want to say a couple of weeks,” Zantingh said. “A lot of that had to do with students deciding whether they were going to live on campus or not. But because the bills went out a little later, the bill due date went back a little bit.”

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