One-third of DePaul students low income

One-third of DePaul students low income

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n the 17th floor of 55 E. Jackson Blvd., in a corner office enclosed by windows that look out onto the Chicago skyline, Division of Enrollment Management and Marketing Vice President David Kalsbeek keeps his head down, working to develop strategies to improve academic profiles of students, increase socioeconomic diversity and increase student retention rates.

On the ground, DePaul senior Abdus Saleem works not only to finish his degree, but to pay for it. His school day starts at 6 a.m., ends at 10:30 p.m., with a commute, class, homework, an hour at the gym and online job searches in between, Twitter if he’s not too tired. The rest of his week is dedicated to working 40 hours at an IT company where he hopes to be hired after graduation.

This heavy workload is a tradeoff Saleem has accepted to avoid the burden of student debt. Instead of taking on loans, Saleem relies on federal and state grants — money that doesn’t need to be paid back — to offset the rising costs of a college degree.

He’s not alone. Saleem is part of 34 percent of DePaul’s student body that is eligible for and receives the federal Pell Grant, and is therefore considered by the Department of Education to be low-income.

When compared to other private, four-year research institutions, this 34 percent is somewhat high. Out of 101 universities in that same category, with the No.1 university enrolling 70.8 percent low-income students, DePaul holds its spot at number 20.

But when Pell Grants were instituted in 1965 to help low-income students pay for college, the average cost of four-year university tuition, room and board was around $2,000.

The percent of average college costs covered by the maximum Pell Grant declined from a high of 67 percent in 1975 to 27 percent in 2012.

Today, tuition skyrockets past $30,000 at private universities, and even with federal and state grants and scholarships, United States college tuition still far exceeds that of universities abroad, and that which students, specifically low-income students, can afford.

And when there is a balance still owed after Pell Grants and other scholarship awards go through, many DePaul students have to make tough decisions about how they will earn or borrow the money they still owe.

While Saleem found a way to balance a full-time job in order to pay the rest of his tuition out-of-pocket, the remaining balance was a deal breaker for Pell recipient Katie Pederson.

“After my GI bill ran out, and after my FAFSA money had gone through, I still owed $5,000, and there was no way I was going to be able to pay that. I saved up like $300 and realized it was just going to be way too much,” she said.

Pederson, unable to take out enough loans on her own, finished her last quarter at DePaul in fall of this year, and will continue at Roosevelt University to complete her degree in sociology.

DePaul senior Revan Lowe-Watkins, who works 15 to 20 hours a week, decided to take on student loans in order to pay the balance – an average she says, of about $7,000 for each of her two years at DePaul.

A ProPublica report estimates the 2013 cost of a year at DePaul including tuition, books and living expenses at $46,375. And while Pell Grant recipients receive a discount of 52 percent, the amount of tuition dollars covered by Pell has declined significantly in the past 40 years.

The percent of average college costs covered by the maximum Pell Grant declined from a high of 67 percent in 1975 to 27 percent in 2012, according to Pell Institute documents in a 2015 report.

“(Pell Grants) can be seen as an example … of how the state intervenes to cushion the costs of education being commoditized. It enables students to continue their education but it also distracts from the issue of why education has become a commodity, and such an expensive one at that,” DePaul economic professor Maureen Sioh said.

The Office of Financial Aid is assisting Lowe-Watkins in securing extra loans for the rest of her tuition.

“That’s really what I’ve utilized a lot at DePaul is Financial Aid and people helping me with that, because it would just be so stressful sometimes working on it with only my mom,” Lowe-Watkins said. “I need them to help me figure out loan situations and how to go about that process.”

After being rejected to DePaul in 2012 on her first application, Lowe-Watkins decided to go to a two-year community college to complete her general education requirements, and re-apply to DePaul after doing so. Her motivation to become a DePaul student, rather than apply to a less expensive four-year university, stemmed from observations she made during her tour of DePaul her senior year of high school.

“The one thing I liked about DePaul is I saw a lot of people that looked like me,” Lowe-Watkins said. “I’m a woman of color and I just I saw the diversity here and not just people that look like me, but a lot of different people of color and I liked that.”

Her experience of discovering diversity at DePaul is something Kalsbeek claims that many students of color and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds share, and decided to take on costs because of.

“We just live out that kind of brand,” he said. “Low-income students from low-income communities know that DePaul is a place where students with a wide variety of backgrounds can succeed and will succeed.”

DePaul’s diversity statistics might support that – 37 percent of students are of color, and while still a minority compared to the 54 percent of Caucasians, Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Liz Ortiz said these statistics are changing quickly.

“Diversity is a compelling interest for higher education,” Ortiz said. ”The changing demographic – for the first time, two years ago, more students of color were graduating from high school than Caucasian students. We know in 2016 that Caucasians will be the minority, not the majority; people of color will have passed the 50 percent mark.”

This compelling interest is not only about students’ ability to learn in a diverse environment, but it is an important aspect for Kalsbeek’s work in something called strategic enrollment management.

“Strategic enrollment management is more than just organizing universities, but trying to align universities’ enrollment plans strategically – how does it fit with the university’s overall enrollment goals? What makes it strategic is it’s oriented to the changing external market dynamic, that it’s looking outward not just sitting around and saying how do we shape our enrollment within, but realizing that our enrollment our strategies are only as informed as we are sensitive to changes in market dynamics and demographic changes.”

These strategies come in the form of pipeline programs and relationships with Chicago Public Schools, where schools from low socioeconomic areas are included in tours and visits to increase awareness of DePaul. These are areas that Kalsbeek said many other universities avoid.

“We don’t spend all our time, and there are many institutions that do, in the magnet schools that are hyperselective to get into and are sending all of their students to college,” he said. “It’s not that we are deliberately recruiting low-income students, but we are in fact providing programs and opportunities for students to visit the campus, where we don’t bracket off communities and populations that are going to be more low income.”

While adapting to changing demographics might benefit university marketing strategy and increase the presence of a diverse student body, a DePaulia investigation into diversity at DePaul last year revealed that while the Division of Institutional Diversity and Equity, as well as the Enrollment Management and Marketing, work together to cultivate an equitable experience for all students, some students of color feel less represented in person than they are on paper.

“I think we have to actually define what diversity is and I think that’s the main problem,” a black woman of color and DePaul student said to the DePaulia last year. “Diversity has been correlated with representation, they’re there, so everything is fine. We need to clearly define diversity and racism, these are people’s lives at the end of the day and we can’t treat these topics as something that’s just interesting.”

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