OPED: My dream college said yes, but I can't go

Jennifer Cone
Tribune News Service

"Congratulations! You've been accepted ..." Imagine my excitement when I was accepted into the No. 1 college of my dreams, a four-year, private school right here in Connecticut. All of my hard work paid off and I can start to think about future classes, dorm assignments and student activities.

I should be floating on air, right? Wrong.

Now, imagine how deflated I feel when I look at how much money my parents are expected to pay for tuition, room and board, and all the other "fees" attached to this hefty bill. Despite my getting a $21,000 a year scholarship, the annual amount owed is still $40,000. After the five years it will take me to complete a master's degree in education, the tuition would equal the cost of buying a house. It didn't take long for my parents to consider whether I will go to my dream college — the answer is, no. There is no way they can afford it.

It's not right that the cost of a college education is so steep that very few families can afford to pay the full tuition bill, but what is worse is that the very high income families and the low income families either have, or are given, the money so that their children can attend their dream college no matter what the cost. It's the middle income families that don't have the wealth or are not given enough money to fund their college education.

I suppose that if everyone was expected to pay the same amount for tuition, then I wouldn't feel so cheated. My middle-income family pays a high price tag to pay for low-income students who want to go to the same school but can't afford to attend either. The difference is that low-income students can get government grants that are out of reach for middle-income students. In addition, the Ford Foundation claims that, even though half of all families are given some type of college scholarship, much of that money is just a "discount" off the tuition, not really a scholarship provided by a donor. These "discounts" come from money that is taken from the tuition checks of students who come from middle to high income families and is given to low income students who can't afford the price of the college. So, how is that fair?

It's easy to understand why college tuition continues to increase: paying for better teachers, new buildings and academic programs. The issue is not how much it costs to go to college, but why some students are expected to pay top dollar to attend, and others don't pay anything at all. Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, author of "What Does College Affordability Really Look Like?" in The Washington Post, noted there is a wide disparity in how students pay for college: The family of a low income student attending a four-year, public, in-state college is expected to contribute only 2 percent of the cost, while the contribution of a wealthier family might be 81 percent of the cost.

So, to all those college admissions and financial decision makers who want to put a big, fat "rejected" stamp on our requests for scholarship assistance, please know that we students from middle income families don't have the big savings to pay your college tuition bill, either. We don't live extravagantly, we don't spend our money traveling the world, and we don't waste our money on fancy cars or diamond rings. We, too, have just enough to live within our budget. Do my parents work? Yes. Have they saved a small amount of money to help send me to college? Yes, but they didn't save $200,000 for me to attend your school plus also find the money to pay my brother's college tuition. Before you put the "reject" stamp on my scholarship application because you think my parents are supposed to have saved up enough money to buy a second house, please think twice. I want to be able to go to my dream college, too.

— Jennifer Cone, 17, is a senior at Manchester High School in Manchester, Conn. She wrote this for the Hartford Courant.