Students, CSG move forward with improving affordability guide

Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 7:27pm

In the midst of criticism regarding its Campus Affordability Guide, Central Student Government has undertaken the challenge to rework the manual to be more inclusive and realistic for low-income students at the University of Michigan. Updates include a town hall to be convened Monday evening and a revised guide. 

The Affordability Guide, which has since been taken offline after its release last week, received many critiques from the student body. Many claimed it to be unrealistic for those who come from a lower socioeconomic status — the individuals who would most likely use this type of guide. Suggestions within the guide included reducing spending on eating out, laundry services and impulse spending.

LSA junior Griffin St. Onge, a first-generation student, voiced her dissatisfaction with the guide, despite a general feeling CSG has made valid efforts to alleviate the wealth inequality on campus. According to a report from the Equality of Opportunity Project, 66 percent of students at the University are in the top 20 percent of the income distribution. This reality is mirrored in CSG’s representation — in its 2016 self-survey assessing demographic background, 74.4 percent of its members have household incomes over $100,000 a year, and 37.2 percent of these households make over $250,000.

“There are a lot of really good parts in the second half that outline the housing crisis in Ann Arbor and the available resources for finding more affordable housing and things like that. But I think that in the first half, they tried to make it a kind of thing that’s useful or applicable to the ‘average Michigan student’,” she said.

In response to the initial guide, Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel organized her own guide titled “Being Not-Rich at UM” that is specifically tailored to lower-income students, as the original guide was geared vaguely toward “students from all backgrounds.” She said this new document would be beneficial for those who found themselves underrepresented in the original.

“I would have liked to see more stuff about ways to make money on campus because I feel like a lot of lower income students rely on a steady income and scholarships and grants and work-study and a job, and I felt like that was missing in the guide,” she said.

“This is a document in which we can be honest about the barriers lower income and first-gen students face on this campus,” the guide reads. “This guide is for anyone who has ever felt marginalized on campus — particularly students who are economically disadvantaged, and especially low-income students of color, whose racial oppression is often compounded by their SES.”

St. Onge, one of over 70 students with editing access on the newer guide, voiced her appreciation for the over 10 sections and 35 pages worth of material. These sections include general categories such as housing and employment, as well as specific categories that include places to look for scholarships, study abroad opportunities, where to shop for reasonably priced groceries and other necessities.

“If we’re going to have a section that’s like upper-class ‘how to handle your allowance’ kind of budgeting that isn’t a hugely important part of the guide, we really need any guide on affordability to start with and focus on resources that actually help people afford to be here,” St. Onge said. “Understanding how your financial aid package works, how you can use it to your benefit, what kind of scholarships and employment opportunities are available to you, which jobs work well with student schedules and how you can compete in this really intense atmosphere that expects you to complete all of these incredibly expensive internships and study abroad programs.”

At the CSG meeting Tuesday night, Vice President Nadine Jawad, a Ford senior, addressed the controversy surrounding the original guide and committed to continuing to work on the project as a whole.

“I want to hold myself accountable for publishing a guide that has made some students feel marginalized or feel that it has excluded a demographic of students who think this guide was not made for them,” she said. “I do believe that all mistakes come with positives and I have met with many people who disagreed with the guide, and because of that we have a clear path on how to improve.”

Jawad has been actively contributing to Schandevel’s guide and made plans to convene with student representatives to continue workshopping ideas. This revised approach pools voices from students who have personally used resources cited in the new guide while adding the extensive research found by CSG in its development of the first copy.

“I believe that this guide can be something that represents many different backgrounds and I appreciate the dedication people have made to addressing some of the issues with the guide,” Jawad said. “As we work to get another version on the table, I hope more people will attend our town halls and conversations around these issues with the visibility of the guide now. I would love to see more people engaging in the work we do all years so we can hear feedback and continue to improve.”

According to LSA freshman Juan Orozco, his transition into the University as a HAIL Scholar eliminated many potential stressors and made the university experience much more achievable, but he still faces day-to-day struggles of living in Ann Arbor.

“I’m a low-income student (and) coming into the University, I had to rely a lot on scholarships and funds to actually get here – otherwise I wouldn’t be able to attend, my family wouldn’t be able to handle the debt,” he said.

He referenced the Go Blue Guarantee, which promises full tuition to any in-state student with a familial income of $65,000 or less, as a milestone for students in a similar situation as him, both in ideology and implementation. He reaffirmed steady progress from the student body and its student government is essential to continuing to make the University a welcoming campus and a life-changing opportunity for all students to learn and flourish.

“I just feel education should be equitable for everyone, and being able to budget for low-income students to come into U of M and to be able to get an education here, and transfer that to a degree, and later a job, to provide for themselves later on, I think that’s the most important thing,” he said.

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