Petition calls for elimination of application fees for low-income students

by Noah Goldstein and Zachary Benjamin | 2/21/17 2:10am

On Wednesday, 1vyG, an advocacy group for first-generation students, sent out a press release announcing its “No Apologies Initiative,” which calls for universities to eliminate application fees for low-income and first-generation college students by the 2017-18 application cycle. Student Assembly president Nick Harrington ’17 signed the press release, alongside student government representatives from the seven other Ivy League institutions, Northwestern University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago, as well as representatives for first-generation, low-income student groups from all members of the Ivy League.

The press release, written by 1vyG executive director and Brown University student body president Viet Nguyen, describes Nguyen’s struggles to afford the various fees he encountered when he applied to college.

The release cites a 2014 report by the White House, which found that application fees are one of the main reasons that low-income students choose not to apply to college. It also references the recent New York Times study that found elite colleges in the United States have more students enrolled from the top one percent of family incomes than from the bottom 60 percent. The same study found that the College has the highest proportion of students from the top one percent in the Ivy League and the 11th-highest proportion nationwide.

In the press release, Nguyen applauds organizations like QuestBridge and Posse, which help low-income and first-generation students access higher education, and writes that colleges should do more to help these students. He refers to Bowdoin College and Trinity College, whose admissions offices waived application fees for first-generation students in 2015, as examples to emulate. Bowdoin also waived fees for all students applying for financial aid.

Harrington said in an interview that one of Dartmouth’s fundamental principles is supporting diversity while knowing that said diversity improves Dartmouth’s education. In order to make this principle a reality, the student body should examine the barriers that exist not only within the Dartmouth community, but also among those who wish to become a part of the community, he said. As a result, Harrington supports the abandonment of application fees because they are a barrier to low-income and potentially first-generation college students.

“I signed the petition at the end of the day because I believe we can grow into a stronger and more diverse community if we start by allowing everyone the equal chance to apply in the first place,” Harrington said.

He noted that his signature was meant to show his personal support for the issue, rather than necessarily representing the entire student body.

Now that the petition is out, Harrington said he and other student leaders want to wait for a potential response from schools, although Student Assembly will support any efforts, such as campus advocacy, to reduce such barriers.

Candida Alfaro, president of the University of Pennsylvania’s PennFirst organization, which represents low-income and first-generation students, said that she wants Ivy League schools to make additional efforts to be inclusive to these types of students along with removing the application fees. She hopes that this will inspire more students to apply to the Ivy League.

For Alfaro, the next step is to reach out to potential low-income or first-generation students in rural or underrepresented areas.

Cornell University Student assembly president Jordan Berger wrote in an email that he signed the petition because an application’s cost should not prevent a student from going to the best school they can.

Berger wrote that Cornell’s Student Assembly will continue to work with first-generation student leaders, such as by creating a seat for first-generation students on Student Assembly, which was done last year.

One of Dartmouth’s First Generation Network student coordinators and signatory of the petition Bethany Malzman ’19 said that she first heard about the petition several weeks ago when a student at Brown reached out to the first-generation network at Dartmouth.

Malzman said she decided to sign the petition because college application fees can be harmful to prospective students. While there are ways to get fees waived, students may not know how to do this or be unable to afford the fees, she said.

“The identity of first generation could mean that your parents do not have a four-year college degree, so they might not have the support at home and may not know exactly how to go about receiving a fee waiver,” Malzman said. “I think that deters students who could be potential candidates ... for the Ivy League in general. I think that more students should have the ability to apply for college without having to worry about fees.”

By signing the petition, Malzman said she believed she was representing the school alongside Dartmouth students who are first-generation, low-income or both.

Malzman said that ideally, she would like to see fee waivers removed as a result of the petition, but realistically, she would at least like to see a dialogue on the topic emerge among first-generation leaders on campus and administrators.

QuestBridge scholar Kellen Appleton ’20 applied to most of the colleges he wanted to through QuestBridge because the organization paid his application fees. Appleton said that he specifically applied through QuestBridge so that he would not have to worry about paying his fees.

“I ended up not paying any application fees, and because of that, I could apply to basically any college I wanted to, something I got full use of,” he said. “If I had had to pay application fees for all the colleges I had applied to, I probably would not have applied to Dartmouth at all.”

Appleton said that if he had been forced to pay the fees himself, he would have ended up applying to four or five colleges, as opposed to the 18 that he ultimately submitted applications to.

For Appleton, getting the fees waived was difficult, although he knew that colleges would likely waive the fees if he asked. The problem, for him, lay in asking for help in the first place.

“A lot of poorer families, mine included, have kind of a stigma about asking for help in any certain way or form, even when that is something that the colleges encourage and that they say is definitely available ... I wouldn’t say there was a sense of shame, or anything that strong, but there was definitely a hurdle to doing it,” he said.

Appleton said that the fees themselves can thus be prohibitive for students looking to apply to college.

Member of the First Year Student Enrichment Program Rachel Muir ’20 said that when she first started her college application process, she was not sure how many she would be able to apply to. Luckily, she was able to get funding through fly-in programs, which colleges typically sponsor to target underprivileged and underrepresented students beginning the application process. However, she said that not everyone she knew was able to attend such programs.

Muir said that while the applications for the programs themselves were not hard, it was still a lot of work having to fill out multiple waivers along with filling out the applications.

She applied to 18 colleges thanks to the fly-in programs and said she probably would have applied to 11, many of which were state schools with more affordable application fees, if it were not for the assistance. She felt comfortable applying for these programs because she had a college access advisor, whom she met through the College’s Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth program. If it were not for the advisors, Muir said she probably would not have been able to figure out the college application process.

Muir said that such fees discourage a lot of students from applying to schools.

FYSEP director Jay Davis ’90 said that he fully supports students advocating for an issue that they believe in. Regarding fee waivers, he said that nationally, even the knowledge that fee waivers are necessary can hinder prospective students.

“What the students are advocating for is a leveling of a field that they see to be slanted towards students that have either a higher income or a higher awareness of such things as waivers ... It is an issue that speaks directly to the difference of experience that low-income students often have in the entire college application process,” Davis said.

He said that any student advocacy has the potential to attract national attention, but he is not sure how college fees will change moving forward, though he did say that he knows the College reevaluates its admission policies, including fees, every year.

The College has a waiver process for the Common Application fee. According to College spokesperson Diana Lawrence, the College “review[s] and reconsider[s]” the application fee and fee waiver process every year.