Dan Grover: Paying for family trips goes too far

As a student from Maine, I know it’s not always easy going to college far from home.

That’s why, at first glance, it seemed laudable that GW is creating a grant program to help parents afford to visit their sons and daughters on campus. After all, everyone likes a little taste of home, and it sends a positive message that the University cares about families.

But at GW, where money is tight and departments feel shortchanged, administrators should avoid causes that sound sentimental but have little practical value. We don’t know yet exactly how much GW will set aside for the grant program – but whether it’s $5,000 or $25,000, this is not a good use of resources.

Instead of setting aside money to fly families here, the University should allocate that money toward actual financial aid – a large pot of money that still needs to grow.

This new program, to be run out of the Office of Parent Services, is part of the University’s broader effort to improve its retention rate. But the truth is GW students don’t drop out or transfer because their parents can’t visit.

GW should already know this. It gives out some form of aid to about 60 percent of the student body and typically widens financial aid pools each year to give out more scholarships than most of its competitor schools.

But this program shows at least some offices are getting off track with how they spend money.

This new pool of money isn’t going toward building new academic programs or toward the Student Association pool of funds for student organizations. Students are more likely to remain at GW for all four years if they are involved in a student group they really care about or if their academic program is top-notch – not if their family is coming to town.

The University may be too concerned with keeping students satisfied as happy customers. More than ever, students demand pristine gyms, hotel-like residence hall services and 24-hour advising. With the bill students and families often pay to attend GW, this is understandable.

But this grant program is a service the University doesn’t need to provide.

Besides, with families more connected than ever through social media platforms like Skype, it feels like families can keep in touch sufficiently without physically visiting.

There’s nothing wrong with helping GW students and their parents via this new fund – in fact, it’s admirable. But it would make more sense to tackle more directly the financial burden so many families face.

This fund tries to address the issue and bridge the socioeconomic divide, but it fails to get at the heart of the problem.

We’re hiding from the real issue.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist.

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