One thing I like about this campus is that no matter where I am at any given time, I never have to look far to find five or six thoroughly outraged students. I am secure in the knowledge that no matter what’s going on or who’s saying what to whom and why, somebody’s always fuming about it; there’s always a vocal opposition. I like that. So when I heard the University might raise tuition by 10 percent this fall, I could hardly wait for the backlash. Much to my horror, there wasn’t one.
Sadly, I doubt anyone will ever start the Coalition to Reduce Tuition Right This Second or We’ll Set Fire to Ourselves on the Steps of the Union and Don’t Think We Won’t. It’s considered uncouth – even tacky – to discuss finances across socioeconomic status lines. As with race- and gender-related topics, we’re supposed to walk on eggshells in mixed company, never referring directly to the fact that someone’s parents might be richer or poorer than ours.
Personally, I’ve never had much sympathy for the linguistically prudish. More people really ought to be angry about this. Even considering state budget cuts and strained economies, a 10 percent tuition increase at the most expensive public university this side of Mars would be quite simply inexcusable. But since no one except me seems to give a damn, I’m preparing for the worst. I’ve devised a personal budget that will allow me to live out the remainder of this term on a mere $65 a day. Yes. It’s fairly simple, actually – a very easy plan to follow as long as I never eat anything or buy any soap.
Sixty-five dollars a day – that’s how much it costs me to live and go to school in Ann Arbor. The cost of rent and utilities (I share a small room in a small apartment) for one term plus the cost of this term’s in-state tuition, books and other non-optional school supplies (bluebooks, pens, paper, folders, etc.), divided by 105 days (i.e. the 15 weeks that make up winter term) equals $65. Add to that the cost of food, personal hygiene products, woefully infrequent cups of coffee with witty poets and any other unforeseen expenses (e.g. replacement laces for my boots, duct tape with which to hang paintings and/or repair kitchen appliances) and, well, let’s just say that if this increase goes through, you may soon see me on a street corner somewhere with a cardboard sign (“Will Write for Food”) and a large coffee mug labeled, “God Bless.”
And if the University’s Office of Financial Aid website is any indication, I won’t be alone. According to the OFA, more than 55 percent of University undergrads received some kind of financial aid in 2000-2001 and each year, the OFA “awards more than $8.9 million in scholarships to more than 1,400 entering freshmen.” A little number crunching indicates an average of $6,357.14 per financially-needy freshman. Though the site neglects to mention how the average upper-classman fares, it would presumably be at least as well.
But averages, on average, are utterly worthless. First, while that much money might be a godsend for an in-stater like me, it would be far less helpful to a non-resident who pays $25,005 a year in tuition and fees compared to my $8,435. As anyone who has ever applied for financial aid knows, asking nicely to get a meaningful amount of money from the University is about as easy (and as effective) as trying to squeeze gold coins out of a lead brick. Of those whose parents can’t foot the entire bill, a select few people (cough, athletes) get full scholarships, a few more get $400 worth of work-study and everybody else gets loans they won’t have paid off until well after their own kids finish college.
This sounds like a joke, an exaggeration to prove a point, but in many cases it isn’t. There are humorous elements – the “Expected Parental Contribution” line on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, for instance, is a veritable laugh riot – but the reality that more than half of us can’t afford to be here is not at all funny. We need a movement, an uprising, an outcry, and we need it before those in charge of the University budget get their hands on our last $65. Let me know if you need me. In the meantime, I’ll be at the corner of South U. and Church Street with my sign.
Henretty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.