“The idea is that the university knows you well enough to expect something from you,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of sociology and medicine at Temple University and author of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. “You get those words very early in the relationship, and they don’t really know you at all. It doesn’t build trust.”
Then comes the kicker: That expectation may be just the beginning. “A college often expects students to pay more than the E.F.C.,” said Robert Kelchen, associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University and author of Higher Education Accountability.
All in the Family
For students applying for college right out of high school, the “family” in the E.F.C. usually means parents, since it’s nearly impossible for students to work their way through college in any reasonable period of time anymore.
But the E.F.C. makes no allowance for families where the parent or parents believe a child should try to pull that off. Or when parents look askance at higher education because they see no value in it, and then decide not to help. Or when students feel an obligation to help parents, even (or especially) if parents can’t help them.
Estrangement complicates things too. “With L.G.B.T.Q. students, people really begin to immediately understand the problem,” Dr. Goldrick-Rab said. “When a 19-year-old comes out and gets cut off, what is family now?”
The E.F.C. also makes no allowance for extended families and obligations to aging parents, aunts, brothers or chosen family.
“It denies any responsibility that may lie elsewhere,” Dr. Zaloom said.
By couching the E.F.C.’s final word in the language of charity, the federal financial aid system attempts to soften the blow. Sure, powerful forces are making demands of parents whether they like it or not, but at least it is a kind of gift. Right?
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