“We sold one of our cars to pay for college,” Susan, whose name has been changed to preserve her privacy, said. “That was just for the first semester.” Rarely has a student had to leave Kenyon due to a drastic shift in their financial aid package, according to Director of Financial Aid Craig Daugherty, but it has happened before.
For the 2014-2015 academic year, the College budgeted approximately $7 million per class for need-based and merit aid — $28 million in total. The sticker price of a Kenyon education, including room and board, is $58,890 per year. Domestic students are required to re-submit the College-designated PROFILE as well as the federal FAFSA forms each year to qualify for both institutional and federal aid, and merit aid is given to students based on academic achievements. But sometimes it’s not enough.
Kenyon is not need-blind, meaning that it takes into account a student’s financial needs when considering whether to admit that student, and students can only apply for merit aid as high school seniors.
“At this stage, we don’t have the resources to become a need-blind institution,” President Sean Decatur said, referring specifically to Kenyon’s $195-million endowment, which is smaller than that of many peer institutions.
As an incoming student, Susan was admitted with a financial aid package that made Kenyon affordable, but after her first year at Kenyon, Susan’s aid was revised to zero dollars. Before her sophomore year, Susan received a statement indicating she no longer qualified for financial aid; her sister had graduated from college and her stepfather had received money back on his tax returns — two events that often result in result in qualifying for less aid.
John, whose name has been changed to preserve his privacy, also had the graduation of an older sibling affect his financial aid package. John wrote in an email to the Collegian that “bottom line, Kenyon did not take our situation into account. Although we knew that a change in tuition could be possible,” he wrote, “we never dreamed that the change would be that drastic.” By the time John was made aware of the situation, he had already signed on to go abroad for a year, and the deadline to transfer to another school that might offer him more money had passed.
Susan called the financial aid system “really bureaucratic.” “I had to jump over multiple hurdles for them to tell me something simple,” she said.
Susan was most disappointed by the way in which her financial aid was handled, which she said was “not understanding at all.”
Daughtery said his office is always open to those who have concerns about their packages. “If someone’s need is cut, if someone’s aid is reduced, they can come into the office and myself or one of my team members can sit down and show them in black and white why the award went down,” he said.
Not every family, however, has had a similarly negative experience with Kenyon’s financial aid system. Lori Sweeney P’16 wrote in an email to the Collegian that she “was impressed [with the Office of Financial Aid] and felt Kenyon was working hard to help us make it work.”
Once, Mia Barnett ’15 said, her family “missed the [FAFSA] deadline, but luckily I was able to work with [Office of Financial Aid] and they were really kind about my situation. I was able to turn it in and still receive aid that year.”
Daugherty said all forms are approved by the College and the U.S. Department of Education, and a mathematical process is used to determine how much a family can afford to spend on tuition each year.
According to the Project on Student Debt, the average debt for undergraduates in Ohio in 2014 at private non-profit and public institutions was $29,090. The Wall Street Journal cited the average 2014 graduate having $33,000 worth of student debt. Daugherty said that loan indebtedness for Kenyon students is currently “about $20,000.”
Hana-May Eadeh was once a part of the Kenyon Class of 2017, but transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) after her first year at Kenyon because she was reluctant to take out the loans necessary to continue under a reduced financial aid package. “We asked about the change and were given no concrete reason for it,” Eadeh’s mother Barbara wrote in an email to the Collegian. “The one example they gave of increased assets had not changed from the prior year.”
Susan felt trapped by her situation. With two younger siblings about to start college themselves, taking a year off from school would negatively affect Susan’s siblings’ financial aid packages, because the more children a family has in college the more federal financial aid each of them is typically eligible for.
“I was forced to go to Kenyon the next year and to pay that money,” Susan said. In order to do so, Susan turned to her grandfather, who used his retirement savings to fund her sophomore year while Susan looked into transfer options.
At the end of her sophomore year, Susan was surprised to find that Kenyon was offering her financial aid for her junior year. “We spent hundreds of dollars on application fees, on plane tickets, on hotels, because I was really set on transferring,” Susan said. “It just completely threw me off. I didn’t hear from anyone for months.”
Another common complaint — one which Susan, John and Eadeh agreed on — is that the two months between when financial statements are released in June and when they are due in August isn’t enough time to make such a significant decision. It can be hard to find the money to pay what can be nearly $30,000 per semester in that amount of time.
Both John and Susan were able to work with the College to find a way to stay on campus and Eadeh is now happily at VCU, but the stress of navigating the financial aid system comes at an emotional cost. “I spent my sophomore year struggling academically because I was so stressed out about transferring,” Susan said. “[I was] figuring this out almost completely on my own.”