Systemic inequality in higher education – The Rider News

By Kaitlyn McCormick

Several minority and first-generation Rider students have had to drop out of college due to financial constraints, especially after the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. In most of these cases, however, the hands of Rider’s financial aid department are unfortunately tied.

Now a bigger question arises: How do you create a fair college experience in an inherently inequitable society?

Rider’s website makes this promise: “We are committed to making your education affordable and personalized to your financial needs, from start to finish. But, based on student testimonials, this statement is not always true.

History of Roberto Dacosta-Reyes

Criminal Justice Major Roberto Dacosta-Reyes was only a semester and a change left in his career at Rider when he realized, due to extenuating financial circumstances caused in large part by the pandemic, that ‘he is expected to leave school with three and a half years. years of debt and no diploma to show for it.

Dacosta-Reyes ‘individual situation had many complexities, from his parents’ financial situation changing due to the pandemic, inability to find a co-signer for a private loan, lack of qualification for some endowment funds and the offer of a payment plan he said was still too high of a balance to do work.

What is even more upsetting in the case of Dacosta-Reyes is the great involvement he offered to Rider – peer mentoring at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), involvement in the Multicultural Student. Leadership Institute and work as a student panelist for diversity. Despite this full resume, there was still no way to top up his outstanding balance.

“It’s like they don’t care at all … [the] degree of commitment that I had in school. And that sucks, ”said Dacosta-Reyes.

Rider has made great strides in committing to diversity, equity and inclusion, and you’d think Dacosta-Reyes’ case, especially as a black student, would be a great one. opportunity to put into practice creative and innovative solutions. While Rider’s financial aid office was only able to dampen Dacosta-Reyes’ balance to some extent, there must be pressure for greater problem solving.

“The fact that I’ve been here for four years, the fact that as soon as I arrived, I was integrated into diversity groups. And I was in a lot of committees. … I did so many open days, admitted student days, ”said Dacosta-Reyes.

Professor of Sociology and Criminology Sarah Trocchio worked closely with Dacosta-Reyes as an advisor and an academic steeped in inequity. Trocchio described him as “a sort of vocal and leading voice for the Rider student community”.

“There are so many institutional discussions about the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. … But we know that the financial impacts of this crisis, and in terms of public health, have not been fairly borne by race and ethnicity, like everything else, ”said Trocchio.

A common experience

English Major Andrea Iragorri is another student whose enrollment has suffered as a result of financial difficulties. She was forced to quit Rider just before the start of her senior year.

Iragorri, a first-generation Hispanic student, explained the difficulties of navigating financial aid as someone submitting to college with no one at home to be a sounding board for the experience.

“I’m just another student who can’t go to school anymore,” said Iragorri

It seems likely that such issues will continue to occur, especially as the demographics continue to change in Rider’s student body. Roy Onfroy, a second year computer science student, has previously encountered concerns about financial aid and the cost of tuition.

As a result of a problem with the stock market and other financial resources the summer before his sophomore year, Onfroy’s account balance remained larger than expected, which he described as “a frightening number.”

Onfroy said the experience gave him a lot of stress and anxiety.

If Onfroy was able to resolve his particular situation with the financial aid office and stay with Rider, not all students are so lucky. This specific success is not without unintended emotional consequences – in Onfroy’s case, feeling like he has to present himself as an “angry black man” to get the help he needs.

Its students are the heart of Rider – students who really want to get involved in the community. There has to be a stronger push to keep them here, especially those who have already devoted so much time to improving the university.

Restrictions on financial assistance

James Conlon, Executive Director of Rider’s One Stop Services and Edward Hill, Executive Director of Financial Aid, detailed specific restrictions and regulations that make it more difficult to resolve difficult financial situations in some student cases.

Conlon said, “There are a lot of cases where we can’t do anything because of the regulations or because of the situations. We must follow specific federal regulations [regulations] and state regulations.

“With university funds, we have to be fair and equitable for everyone. … We need to be able to justify why someone received a certain amount over another. … We can’t give a person something that doesn’t qualify just because we want to. … We need to provide documentation on this.

Working with in-depth student cases requires a review of specific documentations, income, and maneuvers under strict rules, and due to these restrictions along with general funding, Conlon stressed that the university is not unable to foot the bill for multiple students. .

Hill said, “Even though, you know, our hearts bleed for these students who tell us this, if they can’t have the material, we don’t have the power to make a change.”

While financial aid staff have little control over a student’s unpaid balance, Rider must reassess what makes a student valuable enough to be awarded special college-funded scholarships. In the case of Dacosta-Reyes for example, it is inconceivable that a university which has made diversity, equity and inclusion a cornerstone of its marketing does not struggle harder to keep a student who has become a face of diversity, participating in photo shoots for CDI and being heavily involved in diversity programs and events on campus, within its ranks.

The rider’s plans

The Rider’s Inclusive Excellence Plan, implemented during the 2019-2020 academic year, outlines the plans and commitments made by the university.

One covered objective is to “identify[ing], evaluate[ing] and improve[ing] programs that support the financial stability of all students, with the understanding that these can have a significant additional impact on underfunded students.

Actions taken under these goals include, but are not limited to, “improved communication with new students and families as part of orientation regarding financial aid processes and resources.” … Continued to offer financial literacy sessions to students and families. … Formalized request and decision process and criteria for emergency student aid.

While this plan is new and continues to grow, students still experience the negative effects of the systemic inequity associated with higher education in real time.

The need to think outside the box

While there might not be a lot that Rider’s financial aid department can do from a legal and financial standpoint, there has to be more pressure at the administrative level to use creative and functional solutions to keep students enrolled, especially students that Rider claims to care about.

In Onfroy’s words, “I know change takes time, but it can’t take that long.”

A solution to explore? A fund for the benefit of under-represented and minority students facing unexpected financial changes that may prevent them from graduating.

According to an email from spokesperson for University Kristine Brown, “Rider does not have funds specifically for underrepresented and underfunded students, as financial hardship is not limited to these groups of students. students “.

Brown added that Rider has an emergency relief fund for students, but that resource generally helps with textbooks and smaller overdue balances.

The experiences of Rider students struggling with financial aid are but a small reflection of the larger issues of inequity in society. Rider is just a microcosm of students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the larger, interconnected issues surrounding the price of higher education. These problems will only increase if they are not tackled at the national and school levels.

This editorial expresses the unanimous opinion of The Rider News editorial board. This week’s op-ed was written by Opinion Editor Kaitlyn McCormick

Originally printed in the 12/08/21 issue

A previous version of this article misidentified the discipline of sociology and criminology professor Sarah Trocchio. The Rider News regrets this error.

Earnest L. Veasey