Rice's next investment: financial accessibility beyond tuition
Waking up to last Tuesday morning’s news about the Rice Investment, I was thrilled to see such a significant change in how we structure financial aid at Rice. Rice is an incredible school, and such a broad change will make it possible for more students to access a Rice education. But I feel it is important to mention that even though tuition and room and board will be more affordable for many students, there is still work to be done to make Rice truly accessible to lower-income students.
This accessibility should start before students even come to Rice. How can we ensure that our admissions practices are inclusive for lower-income students? If The Rice Investment does increase the number of applications, especially from low- and lower-middle-class students, how can we be sure that our evaluation of the “academic rigor” of their secondary institutions is fair? A report from the University of Michigan’s School of Education found that admissions officers were 26 percent more likely to recommend low-income students when provided with socioeconomic data about the student and their high school, like the number of students on subsidized or free lunch, the number of AP courses available and college admission rates. Beyond academics, how do we ensure we fairly evaluate a student who worked 30 hours a week to support their family compared to a student whose resume is decorated with leadership positions in various clubs? The admissions process is built to prioritize those who grew up in privilege, and I challenge Rice to push back against the status quo.
Once here, students are met with the many costs inherent to being a student at Rice. Beyond just tuition, fees and room and board, there is the cost of getting to college, the expenses of setting up a dorm room for the first time, and the cost of school supplies, books, online homework systems, software, new technology, materials for graduate school examinations, residential college events, social outings, on-campus plays, large cultural events, dances and medical services like STI testing, vaccinations, and emergency care. This list is by no means exhaustive — in fact, it barely scratches the surface.
What can we do to mitigate some of these costs? How can we plan our events in ways that don’t exclude those who might otherwise not be able to afford them? While there is assistance available for low-income students, we should make sure they know how to access resources like the Magister’s Discretionary Fund and funding from the dean of undergraduates. Beyond these funds, which are often used for expenses faced when at Rice, we should look to create “college start-up funds” to provide low-income students with the greatest need with money for one-time expenses associated with moving to college. And even if all of these funds exist, if students don’t know about them they won’t access them. Our administration needs to do a better job of publicizing this information.
Beyond just having the resources and actively encouraging students to apply for them, we also need a culture that encourages them to access those resources without shame. For example, income accessibility needs to be made a larger part of Orientation Week — I believe it should be given its own session. Knowing these resources are going out to every new student makes it feel much less stigmatizing to reach out and is an important reminder to all about our privilege.
We also must acknowledge that while a Rice education is becoming more financially accessible, it does not mean it is more academically accessible, especially for first-generation college students or students from schools without extensive college preparation programs like AP or IB. Currently, the only preparation program we have for these students is Rice Emerging Scholars Program, which is a STEM-only program. Rice could expand RESP to students from all majors. Another option might be to create online preparation programming for students to ready themselves for the rigor of college writing and coursework. Yale launched such an initiative in 2014 which has helped 109 students adjust to college coursework. Once here at Rice, do we have the necessary support system to ensure academic success? This could exist in the form of seminars, networking or mentorship. Just getting students to Rice isn’t enough — we need to make sure they can thrive here.
I’m proud to be a part of a school that is willing to invest in remarkable students regardless of their background. Let’s keep celebrating this week, this month and all this year. Let’s keep telling everyone we know to apply to Rice. Let’s feel relief at the fact that students returning next year will have to bear fewer expenses than they originally thought. But let’s not forget that this is just the first step into this era of increased accessibility, and that there’s always more that needs to be done.
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