Students weigh in on tuition challenges4 min read
Only a few months after arriving in the United States, Aloysius Kabonge, a freshman majoring in computer science received a phone call that would leave him speechless and change the course of his college career: His sponsor in Uganda wouldn’t be able to support him anymore. His financial troubles added an immeasurable weight onto his shoulders, and culture shock and acclimating to a new environment were the least of his troubles when learning that he may not be able to continue his education at UMW. As a result, Kabonge was faced with the need to create a GoFundMe in order to continue his studies.
When asked about how this came about, he said his sponsor, one of his father’s friends, promised to pay his college tuition. Kabonge said, “When I came in here in the fall, about a month or two into the semester, she texts me and she’s like she’s unable to continue doing so.”
This change occurred after the money was stolen from her nongovernmental organization, and family support also wasn’t an option for Kabonge. “None of this is coming from family support, because I come from a very humble and poor background,” said Kabonge. “My father is unemployed, my mother is unemployed. The only way that my family gets to survive in Uganda is that my father has a small farm in the home.” However, after receiving a few scholarships and working at the phone-a-thon, he was able to raise the money to pay his tuition for the fall semester.
Coming into the spring, however, Kabonge faced a whole new set of challenges because the scholarships he received in the fall were no longer available. This left him in need of another way to make ends meet, so Kabonge became a resident assistant in hopes of being able to use his $2,000 stipend to pay his tuition, but it wasn’t enough. Additionally, although he was also an orientation leader, he wouldn’t receive payment for that position until May, leaving him with the question of what to do next.
To obtain the necessary funds to stay on campus, he created a GoFundMe campaign with a deadline of April 28. His goal was to raise $11,000 to cover the spring semester, and another $12,000 to pay for the upcoming fall.
Living with financial struggles during college creates a vastly different experience than those who are fortunate enough to not worry about paying for tuition.
“It’s an experience that puts you to the edge because you don’t know what to expect tomorrow,” said Kabonge. “You don’t know if you’re going to stay in school tomorrow. You don’t know if you will be able to get that college degree and be someone that you’re proud of or that your parents are proud of. There is more of fear, fear of the unknown, compared to someone who has everything in place.”
As a result of his financial struggles, the emotional toll from these experiences has affected Kabonge’s mental health, causing feelings of depression and trauma, he said. What is equally concerning is that he’s not alone; this is a problem multiple students have faced with the price of college tuition fluctuating.
Kendyl Kozich, a former UMW student, faced a similar issue last fall, as she needed to create a GoFundMe in order to come back to campus. “I felt this obligation to go to everything everywhere to take advantage of what I had while I was there,” she said. “So I took advantage of every opportunity. I went to like every event, and I tried to never miss a class. This is my last shot at being here. So I might as well make the most of it.”
Thinking that tomorrow could be your last day at the university you attend, or that you won’t be able to return the following semester adds an unnecessary level of stress and makes every experience unnecessarily fleeting.
Being a student in need is a familiar situation, as this past fall I made a GoFundMe to raise money to return to campus. It was a very last-minute decision since I was quickly running out of options for getting the funds together. I worked with the Office of Financial Aid to look further into some options and was able to receive money from the Governor’s Emergency Education grant and CARES Act. However, those weren’t enough, and starting a GoFundMe was the only way that I could see myself able to return to campus.
The university responded to the concerns about the tuition increase and where funds were being allocated.
“Thanks to state support in recent years, we’ve effectively held tuition rates for in-state students flat for four years, but with no additional funding this year, it’s hard to close the gap without increases in tuition and fees,” said Executive Director of University Communications Amy Jessee. “However, a tuition increase would be the first area to be reconsidered, reduced, or removed from the plan, which also includes tapping into our reserve funds and factoring in budget cuts.”
Jessee explained that the change in tuition is a result of several factors. “Additional funding is required for state-mandated compensation actions for faculty and staff; to cover inflationary cost increases impacting the cost of goods, materials and services, as well as state administrative system charges for financial, human resources and information technology services; and to maintain the quality of academics, student services, and campus experience our students and their families expect,” she said.