Tuesday, November 16, 2004

News Essay Final Draft

News Essay
By Jessica Long
English 321
Dr. Mitchell

The Price of a Higher Education (Editorial)
Patrick carefully lifts his white rat out of the cage and gently lowers his arm into the round, metal container balancing precociously on the scale. His female lab rat, Natalie, has learned that she only has to tolerate the confines of the container for a moment and that Cheerios will soon follow.

As a junior Religion and Psychology double major, on top of participating in many extra-curricular activities such as Concert Choir and Cross Country, Patrick has little time to worry about how he will pay for his liberal arts education at Emory & Henry.

So how do students pay for college? Last summer, Patrick worked almost 40 hours a week for two months in a hospital cafeteria as a “food line worker” to help pay his expenses for the Concert Choir’s trip to Italy this Christmas. The florescent lights and the smell of mass produced food pervaded his summer break when most students are thought to be lying on the beach or taking road trips.

Paying for College
The price of a higher education has been a nationwide concern for many years. This past presidential election made the Pell Grants one of the major issues addressed by both candidates. During the Presidential debates, President Bush and Senator Kerry sparred over conflicting reports of funds and numbers of eligible students.

According to Congress, the Federal Pell Grant has been flat funded by the administration for the past two years, meaning the amount of money per student has been frozen. However the number of eligible students has gone up from 4.3 to 5.1 million students. Thus, the number of students getting funded has gone up, but the funding has not.

The Federal Student Aid Programs are the “largest source of college financial assistance, each year providing billions of dollars in funding.” These programs provide funding through grants (specifically the Pell Grant), loans and work-study jobs. The amount awarded to each student is determined by the financial need of that individual and how much the tuition will cost, as well whether or not he or she is a full or part time student.

The Red Tape
It all lies behind the FAFSA. In order to receive the Pell Grant, students must first apply for the FASFA. This generates a formula on an individual basis that takes into consideration the income of the student’s parents, taxes and basic living expenses. This formula results in the EFC, which is an estimate of how much a family is expected to spend on their child’s college education. If the EFC “is below a certain amount” then the student is eligible for the Pell Grant.

Virginia’s Financial Aid Programs
Patrick sits on the front steps of House 17 in his running clothes, trying to remember all the facets of his financial aid. “I did get a TAG grant, but its not much of a grant anymore” he said.

The VTAG (Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant), has suffered cuts in the past few years, causing local college students to find the additional financial aid elsewhere. The grant award is calculated by how much funding is available and how many students are eligible for the program.

In the “2004-2005 Tuition & Fees Report” released by the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the Virginia General Assembly appealed the 1996 freeze on tuition rates and now allows institutions to set the rates themselves according to the market for 2004-2005. The projected increase in tuition next year is nine percent. To compensate, “state funding to higher education will increase by $278 million over the next two years to help address the chronic under-funding of Virginia’s world-class system of higher education, support growing enrollments, and offset rising tuition costs.”

In another report entitled “Advancing Virginia Through Higher Education: The Systemwide Strategic Plan for Higher Education,” the government blames the under-funding due to economic difficulties, increased enrollment and the growing expectations of the public. This year, need based financial aid is short “at least $34 million” in helping underprivileged students. The report also includes a plan for the future to accomplish three goals by 2010: “accommodate at least 38,000 additional students, increase Virginia's national standing in sponsored research, enhance the Commonwealth’s commitment to instructional quality.” The number of students that are served and retained will calculate the success of this mission statement as well as how many graduate and how the programs rank nationally.

Emory & Henry College
Currently, Patrick holds the Byars Scholarship, the Dickenson Pre-ministerial Scholarship, the McGlothlin Memorial Scholarship and the Holsten Conference Grant. According to the financial aid department here at Emory, 98% of all students receive some form of financial aid and 74% are awarded need-based financial aid. An incoming freshman will receive about $11,500 in grants and scholarships.

Back in the lab, Natalie nestles herself in the crook of Patrick’s arm as he slowly walks to the room that houses the maze. He opens the door and places her in the narrow, wooden rat-sized corridor that leads to three different branches. Patrick counts out 15 Cheerios while making sure that Natalie doesn’t climb out of the miniature labyrinth. He places one Cheerio at the right branch along with the dice that she will learn to associate with food, and opens the dividing panel to let her begin the test. After each trial he switches the orientation of the dice and the Cheerio and patiently waits for Natalie to find the hidden treat at the end of the correct corridor. She doesn’t take the right direction every time, but she always finds her way and in the end manages to find the hidden treat.

The federal and state governments have taken the right direction toward increased funding for higher education, but still have yet to find the prize of equilibrium between the rates of tuition in the current market and the funding for financial aid. There is no magic formula for perfect financial aid funding, but there is a growing need for action and support from the government. The number of enrolled students requiring financial aid has broken the confines of early standards and needs to be addressed before this problem becomes an epidemic.

This article was written using information from ed.gov, vfic.org, ehc.edu and schev.edu