I am a sophomore here at UMass Boston. My first year as a full-time college student taught me how much unnecessary stress calculating my expenses beyond tuition and trying to figure out how to pay for them has added on top of academic expectations. My financial aid package freshman year completely covered tuition, yet I was still struggling to come up with the money to pay for books, transportation, and other expenses for college. There were so many days I took the train to school but didn't have enough fare to go back home. I owe tuition and have to cover for indirect expenses this year, but I am only focused on paying for my college bill, and not for indirect expenses. Any money I have saved, I use to pay for tuition. With the money I earn and save, I fall short trying to fully cover costs for monthly T-passes, groceries, and helping to pay bills in the house, without the help of my parents or siblings to help me get to pay for all of them.
One survey found that 51 percent of students paid more than anticipated for indirect expenses. 88 percent of students were anxious about affording the indirect expenses at least two times a semester, with over 50 percent stressing monthly. This severely impacts how well a student succeeds in college. I know because I am one of the 88 percent. I do not get the support I need to help cover costs for indirect expenses, despite having an expected family contribution of zero. Many students rely on the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant decreased from covering over three-quarters of the cost of a four-year public degree in the 1970s to cover less than one-third today. Pell Grants would have to rise by about $4500 to match those costs. Not being able to pay for basic living costs means students have to make difficult choices, such as dropping out of school until they can find a way to cover these expenses.
Many colleges are not transparent enough about their indirect expenses. A study by uAspire found that they were unable to locate information on 39 percent of college websites. Students are not getting clear and accurate information about their indirect expenses, when these expenses need to be paid, and the resources available to them. Colleges are placing a burden on students that don't need to be there. Students from low-income backgrounds who aren’t getting their needs addressed deserve better, and so one way of addressing their needs is through transparency, along with an increased investment in order to make navigating college more equitable. One policy that should be enacted is that all colleges receiving Title IV funding should (on their website) break down the estimated indirect expenses (estimated dollar amount) as well as post their cost of attendance (COA).
More resources are needed to help students pay for indirect expenses. As a solution, I urge state governments to allow need-based aid to cover indirect expenses. Policymakers could make need-based grants to cover college costs up to an institution's cost of attendance, including the full cost of indirect expenses. Help to make a difference in demanding schools to make college more affordable because I know if I had more certainty in knowing how I could afford my expenses, it would make a world of difference to me.