While most Cornell students were off exploring Collegetown annex parties from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. at the start of their college experience, Loteria* was learning the ins and outs of working as a stripper. Her first night on the job, she made $1,600 — the equivalent of working roughly 144 hours at a minimum wage job in New York state. Loteria came to Cornell under the pretense that her tuition costs would be covered entirely by financial aid. But after getting to campus, she realized that a “full-ride” could only get her so far. She found herself in thousands of dollars of debt within her first week at Cornell.
The concentrated wealth at Cornell University is palpable. Large donations, legacy status and well-connected private schools all work in tandem to ensure that over 10 percent of students hail from the wealthiest one percent of families. The trade-off between this history and admissions equity is generally justified with the understanding that the wealth these families bring in — both through full-tuition payments and donations — does a great service to Cornell as a whole, and its low-income students in particular.
In his op-ed last semester, Rory Walsh ’21 said of the money coming in from the families of wealthy students, “If not for their contributions, Cornell would likely be less accessible for low-income students.” The administration hails large donations as “provid[ing] critical, permanent support for faculty, students and programs.” They are correct: The funding derived from these students and their families both improves and makes possible the educational experiences of thousands of Cornell students, and allows for the development of public-oriented research and development, the benefits of which are undeniable. Still, this is a poor bargain — not for Cornell, but for the broader education system in America. The system of legacy and donor priority in admissions ought to be discontinued.
Data from the University show that financial aid policy has taken several turns in the past decade, and in the past five years, loans have increased significantly, while grant aid has stayed roughly similar relative to the increase in loans.
If you go to Cornell, you either have a health insurance plan or you are a clever rulebreaker. If your parents didn’t shell out for eligible private insurance, then you’re likely on the University’s Student Health Plan, which is comprehensive and student-tailored. Students with lower incomes can enroll in a related plan, called SHP+, free of charge. So for most, enrolling in a health plan is but a matter of setting and forgetting. But not for everyone.
The People’s Organizing Collective and Cornell’s First Generation Student Union are hosting a teach-in that will allow “undergrads to ask questions, speak to their own experiences, and connect with students organizing against predatory financial aid policies.”