With a yearly price tag of $50,240 for tuition and fees, $69,712 for in-state students living on campus, and an average financial aid package of $17,000, some Emerson students are resorting to the online crowdfunding platform GoFundMe to pay for their education.
Due to the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused record numbers of unemployment, administrators have encouraged students to apply for CARES Act funds and other emergency grants, or visit the food pantry located inside the Office of Student Success. However, some students say this is not enough to shoulder their financial burdens as the college continues to raise tuition.
Jeanie Thompson, a first-year visual and media arts production major, created her GoFundMe on August 18, 2020, to help pay for the price of living at Emerson.
“Right now, I am a low-income student with very, very limited financial resources,” Thompson’s GoFundMe bio reads. “Although I have been awarded with a few gracious academic scholarships from Emerson that accommodate my education, room and board is costly and unfortunately not included in my aid. This is my primary financial burden as I transition to living on-campus for the fall term.”
With her mother struggling to find work, Thompson said she and her mother, who worked in higher education as an assistant professor at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Morgan State University, lived off of her mother’s savings throughout high school.
“Me and my mom moved around a lot because we had finally hit the end of her savings,” Thompson said in an interview with The Beacon. “My dad lives overseas, he’s from Barbados, and was overseas doing work. There wasn’t really much he could do in regards to taking out a loan, [and] my mom’s credit was absolutely shot because she was living off of her savings, so I couldn’t even do the Parent PLUS Loans, or get any private loans, [which are usually the only options] when you’re applying to college.”
Thompson said she contacted Emerson’s Office of Financial Aid after her acceptance, and was granted restricted scholarships, which are individual or endowment funds created by alumni and donors that support students in need, as well as an increase to her federal loans on top of the scholarships she had prior. About 75 percent of Emerson students receive some sort of financial assistance to help pay for their education, according to the Office of Financial Aid’s website.
Thompson, who reached her GoFundMe goal of $1,500 in September shortly after she arrived on campus, said she writes personal notes to her donors to express gratitude and share what their money will help her accomplish while at Emerson.
Thompson added she believes the Office of Financial Aid needs to advocate more for lower-income students.
“Just because [some] people can pay for this education doesn’t mean everyone else should be pushed aside because they can’t afford it,” Thompson said.
Director of Financial Aid Angela Grant was not available for The Beacon’s request for comment.
Thompson said the amount of debt foisted on families by colleges and other higher education institutions is thoughtless given the pandemic, with many students unaware of the resources available to them.
“Especially in the midst of this COVID situation, it’s kind of insensitive to impose so much debt on people who have parents who are not working or working single jobs,” Thompson said. “Emerson needs to advertise whatever kind of financial resources they have.”
Emily and Bettsy Winkeller, both first-year VMA majors, also used GoFundMe as a means of support for their education.
“Even before COVID-19… and everyone out of work, we had planned to create a GoFundMe to help with the girls’ expenses,” said the twins’ mother, Lydia Winkeller, who launched the campaign on their behalf. “Things are tough all around, but with five out of the six of us furloughed or unemployed, things are especially tough for us. I have gotten to the point where I no longer am too proud to ask for help, especially when it is for my children.”
Amassing over $7,000 in donations, the twins said the drive to start the fund was their disappointment in the financial aid package awarded to each of them from the college.
“We’re twins and we’re going to the same school for equal amounts of money,” Besty Winkeller said. “We’re paying double the amount, and that’s really hard to be financially capable of paying that.”
Along with their GoFundMe, the Winkellers reached out to the Office of Financial Aid to try and secure Stafford Loans, subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans, which, unbeknownst to them they had already been awarded at the start of the fall semester. The total amount of their aid amounting to $40,000 each.
“I’m pretty sure they already gave me the maximum amount, but me contacting them just confirmed I’m definitely getting the loan,” Betsy Winkeller said.
Thompson said GoFundMe is an avenue she would go down again, if needed, to cover future bills.
“When I made the GoFundMe I was a little embarrassed, I don’t know why, I guess you don’t want to ask people who are also struggling to donate, which was something that burdened me during that process,” Thompson said. “I don’t think I should have to sacrifice my education because of my financial standing, especially as a person of color. I can’t let money, of all things, something that is completely arbitrary, make me give up what I really want to do in life, which is film.”