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Columns Votes - December 2006

How did you pay for your college education?

Comments on Finances and the Student Experience

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As a freshman undergraduate in 1971 I had a work study position in food service, which was a positive experience, and kept me connected to campus life, meeting other students, etc. In following years I worked off campus at the Seattle P-I library for a relatively high wage, which covered my living expenses and tuition, although I struggled financially. I received financial aid as a freshman, and did not understand at the time that I could continue to apply each year for financial aid. I certainly wish I had understood that at the time! The off campus job at the P-I was a wonderful learning experience, although it took me away from campus life on the weekend, and the commute was difficult. That job had a mixed impact on my college experience, but was such a rich living and learning experience that I wouldn’t wish it away. I met many of the reporters and learned much about the world of news and journalism. I worked with another UW student at the time, who I believe is now the P-I librarian, Lytton Smith.

For the class of 1952, it was possible to get three-month summer jobs that would pay for nine months of college. TOTAL undergrad costs were about $1,000 in 1948 - including tuition, books, room and board at the student co-op (which required four hours of house duty per week), student athletic pass, and one movie a month. The total cost in 1951-52 was about $1,250. Summer jobs included one summer as a drugstore clerk, two at a logging camp, and one as a Boeing summer engineering student. For grad school I got $150 a month on a State Engineering Experiment Station fellowship that was augmented by a little part-time work around campus—surveyors helper, drafting, and washing dishes. Those were great years, and my outside work gave me a lot of incentive to continue on toward my career goals.

It was extremely hard to work nights in the restaurant and to attend classes and write papers and thesis during the days and weekends. I would have continued with my education all the way through to PhD as I was planning had I had more energy (if not working nights and weekends) and money for books. I often did not get the required books but bought ones of inferior quality as the required ones were out of my price range. I vote for the financial help for the capable poor students.

My undergrad degree (not at UW) was funded by the US Army via an ROTC scholarship (1970s). Grad school was a different story. My wife and I took out an equity loan on our house for a bit over the estimated total of tuition and books, then put the bulk of it into certificates of deposit. As they matured, this coincided with fees coming due, so we deducted the interest on our income taxes, earned some interest, plus took the tax credit for tuition. This strategy cut the true cost of grad school by over 20%. It was well worth it.

I participated in the engineering co-op program and also worked as a student research assistant when I was a senior. Both were directly related to my major and provided valuable experience that helped me shape my career. I also had some odd jobs at times.

I worked at the UW library, food server at women’s dorm and soda jerk at Hub for meals, yard work, GS-3 summer intern for the Bureau of Reclamation, and last two summers in Alaska for a materials testing laboratory. The work and school experience helped me appreciate balancing the real world, benefits of physical labor, living within my means, and the mental labor of college. Would still prefer doing this vice burdensome large loans to pay off upon graduation.

I worked in the summers and was able to earn enough to pay for my books and tuition. I commuted my freshman year and lived at home. My parents paid for three years of room at board and my personal expenses. I got a great deal of satisfaction being able to contribute tuition and books. It was a good investment in my own future.

I worked a few evenings and on Saturdays. While I was never a big sports fan, and really don’t know if I would have attended if I could have, I never saw a Husky football game during undergraduate or graduate school at the UW. I didn’t dawdle through school, the cost was a motivating factor to get my degree and get out. I might have chosen a different career path if I had had more time to consider options during my undergraduate degree.

Even though I lived on my own for three years and was not financially supported in any way by my parents I did not quality for financial aid, despite the fact my parents household income was on $23K for those previous years yet because they saved when my dad was working, it was based also off their assets. Therefore I had to work two jobs to pay for school which prevented me from going full-time and taking much longer to get my BA.

The main reason I went to the UW, rather than some of the private schools I had been accepted to, was value for money. As an undergraduate, I didn’t qualify for much financial aid, and the UW allowed me to get a quality education for a fraction of the cost. I pursued my postgraduate degree at a different institution and had to take out financial aid to cover the cost. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I was tied down to student loans from an expensive undergrad degree. I worked in financial aid at the UW for a bit after graduating, and I based on my other experiences, the UW financial aid services are top-notch and are truly designed to help students.

Because it was financially impossible, I never really aspired to even attend college. I was less motivated in high school. I arrived poorly prepared and broke. I was always tired, broke and hungry. I worked at terrible jobs that were exhausting.  The good news is I found a group of people and a fraternity that helped me. I put financial survival on the back burner. They fed me. They are still my friends today. I only wish I could have enjoyed the learning, and the companionship for more than just the last year.  Twenty-five years later, I’m still very grateful for the financial assistance received (grants, scholarships, loans). Without this help I wouldn’t have fulfilled my dream to become a physician.

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