Elias Economou: It’s a privilege to receive help paying for college

Read an opposing viewpoint to this piece by opinions writer Nate Muramatsu here.

If someone handed you $60,000 every year, you probably wouldn’t take it for granted. Most of us would likely put that money to good use, and wonder how we ever managed to get along without it. At the very least, we would say, “Thank you.”

While that’s more like a scene out of a dream than anything that would ever happen in real life, some students come close. Many students, myself included, are lucky enough to receive help from parents or family when it comes to paying tuition, at least partially.

The concept of financially capable parents helping to fund their children’s college education dates back to a court case from 1982. The topic also came up in December 2014, when a student sued her parents because they were not paying for her to go to college – and astonishingly, she won. But I think families should not be obligated to pay for their 18-year-old to attend college – it’s a privilege, not a right.

To be a full-time student living on GW’s campus, it can cost more than $62,000. It’s a huge sacrifice for a family to put a student through school at a place like GW.

While I can’t imagine going a single day without thinking about how grateful I am for my family’s help, some students don’t see it that way. In fact, some students feel entitled to that money, and see it as a right rather than a privilege. Instead, they should understand that they’re incredibly lucky for all of the help they receive – because really, their families don’t have to help them at all.

When you have help paying for your tuition, it’s easy to forget that not everyone does. There are plenty of students, both at GW and elsewhere, who are completely on their own. Of course, most of them have scholarships and financial aid – but what’s left is up to them. So instead of spending extra time studying, going to parties or exploring D.C., there are a lot of students who have to work, sometimes two or three jobs, so they can continue going to class. Maybe some of their families would help them if they could, but they can’t afford to do so.

Meanwhile, other students’ families choose to help them – even if that means making sacrifices and trimming their own budgets. That’s not something that anyone should take lightly. Those of us with help should remember those sacrifices every time we pass on studying to go out with friends, or take assignments less seriously because we’d rather enjoy the weekend. Instead, having help should make us work harder and make the most of every opportunity.

Children whose parents are paying more for their education have lower GPAs, according to a study by a professor at the University of California, Merced. While that may be true, those students’ grades may have been lower because they took the help for granted and didn’t feel pressure to do well. But because my family helps me pay for college, I am motivated to work harder so that their sacrifice is worth it. And more students should have that attitude. The study also showed that students who received help were more likely to graduate – students should be thankful for that support.

We have fewer than 100 days left before Commencement, and every speech that weekend will remind students of the great times they had at GW. They will think about everything in between that day and the first time they came to D.C – their first college party, first paper, first midterm, first time away from home.

And, who do they have to thank? Their families. But students shouldn’t wait until May to say thank you. Their education is a privilege, and family support is a gift. And it’s more than a thank you and a hug after graduation: It’s a deeper understanding of the sacrifices their parents took to send them to school.

Remember that there are plenty of reasons why parents may choose to not help their children pay for college. Families often have more than one child that they need to support, and paying all or part of tuition for multiple children is a huge financial burden. That doesn’t even include all of the other expenses parents or caregivers can encounter – from paying for their housing and food, to perhaps paying off their own college loans.

In reality, it may actually be easier for families to justify not helping children with their tuition, rather than paying for it. They might feel a student who pays their tuition on their own learns financial responsibility and can master the balance of work and school.

There are plenty of reasons for our families to cut us off and leave us to figure out our debt on our own. But most of them haven’t – and that isn’t something we should never forget.

Elias Economou, a junior majoring in finance, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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