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MIT Financial Aid Policy Unjust



Elaine Y. Wan

The new academic year encroaches upon us while a splendid summer drifts past. Just a few months ago, I faced the dilemma of choosing a major and now I find myself a veteran of the first-year battle at MIT. I must make myself ready for combat as a sophomore on grades. The preparation needed includes a comfortable bed for lots of sleep, sources of caffeine and intellectual motivation, a fort or a place of residence in which to solve problem sets, and a huge stack of cash to pay for books and essentials such as food, pens and paper to make paper airplanes.

This week I received my bill for this year's tuition and approximate expenses. I haven't decided on all the classes I will take in the fall semester and already I have to foot the bill. As enrolled students know, although the Institute has reduced self help, the tuition has increased. My wages for my summer job were barely enough to cover my summer expenses and now I must worry about working during the year to cover the expenses I will have accumulated by then.

During my last few months as a senior in high school, I spent hours in the library and on the web scrounging for any possible chance of getting free money for college. I was not eligible for many either because Asians are not considered an academic minority or because I am not from an electricity-deprived town on the outskirts of Kalamazoo. Other scholarships or grants required interviews or 500-word essays on what I would do to save the depleting ozone layer or how would I design an electrical contraption that uses two Duracell batteries in exchange for a couple of hundred bucks.

Hoping to make friends and fortune, I resorted to entering many science fairs with a project I had been working on for two years. I also submitted to writing contests several literary pieces I had written a few years back. With lots of luck, I managed to get enough outside scholarships to make me feel financially secure in college. Well, at least I felt that way at the time. After finally signing the agreement to attend MIT in the fall, I realized that more money had to be made a lot more.

The moral of the story? Make sure the outside scholarships you get are not taxable and get the money as soon as you can. MIT splits outside scholarships with a student 50/50 if he or she applied for financial aid. This means that the Institute reduces the amount of a student's grant or scholarship by 50 percent and the amount a student has to contribute from earnings or loans by the other 50 percent. However, if you do not require financial aid, you get to keep 100 percent of your money. Byrd Scholarships, ROTC Scholarships, Pell Grants, other federal grants and state scholarships also reduce your tuition dollar for dollar.

I do not think that this policy is just. I am a student who wants to help her family pay for my academic upbringing. I worked just as hard as the other students at the fairs in which I competed. While these students may keep all of their money because they attend a college that does not split their outside scholarships or their family are in a more financially advantageous state, I must share mine. I love my college, but why can't I keep the money I made, especially since I need it?

Furthermore, this year I worked more than forty hours per week trying to ease the shock of a five-digit number on my tuition bill only to find that I would only be able to keep 70 percent of what I made. Students who are currently enrolled in college and receiving financial aid should not be subject to the same income tax as other citizens. For students who do not have financial support from their family, supporting themselves through four years of college is an extremely arduous task.

I don't think that the Department of Defense had any idea that when they gave me a scholarship, half of it was going into MIT's pocket instead of mine. The money may have been used to build a stealth, nuclear powered, aerodynamic jet ski or something of the sort, but that was not its intended purpose. The departmentwould have to give me twice the amount they promised me at first so that I would receive the actual amount of scholarship I was expecting. That would be fine with me if I was getting every dollar but the reality is that I am not.

The New York Times recently reported that Stanford University was looking into the issue of where outside scholarship money is going. After years of complaints from donors and students, Stanford has now promised to let their students keep more of the money they receive. Our west coast friends will see a decrease in their federal loans or work study this year, while we will still be scrambling to study, work and afford three meals a day.

Many other institutions are following Stanford's precedent, including Williams College, Columbia University, and Yale University. MIT is known for dumping loads of work onto its students. Although this may help us obtain a broader field of knowledge and prepare us to fight the hardships we may encounter in the real world, it also means we have less time to make the money we need to support ourselves and our educational endeavors. We already have enough battles to face. It is time that MIT lends a hand to its students with their financial troubles.