By Amy Rudolph
Elm Staff Writer
In this election cycle, there has been a lot of talk about the affordability of a college education in the U.S. Let’s face it, a good college education will run you into some serious debt even if you receive assistance through scholarships and grants. In the year since President Sheila Bair first started working at Washington College, she has been outspoken about “Dam[ing] the Debt” that students face post-graduation when their loans start to catch up with them. The price tags for expensive schools like WC often deter students from even considering to apply and typically shift them more toward relatively inexpensive options like public universities, community colleges, or vocational training schools. While there is nothing wrong with these options, it is a sad reality that students usually only gravitate toward the colleges that they can afford.
When a college costs roughly $54,000 a year, people start to question if it is really worth it to attend. According to the WC website, “every year, Washington College provides more than $23 million in grants and scholarships, with 90 percent of students receiving merit-based scholarships or need-based financial aid.” These tuition reductions still leave most students paying around $20,000 a year and for the most part, only middle or upper middle class students can afford to pay such a price. When you look at the demographics of the U.S., most of those in the middle or upper middle class bracket are Caucasian, this translates to a majority of white students at places like WC.
Having noticed the lack of diversity at WC, President Bair created an initiative to draw more students of color to the school. The program was titled “George’s Brigade” and has gained major media attention from sources such as the Washington Post and Bloomberg News. Bloomberg News recently wrote an article titled, “Sheila Bair’s One Weird Trick to Make Her College Less White” referencing the project. In the post-Buzzfeed world that we now live it, it is hard to take circulations like this seriously when their titles read like click-bait. It makes it appear as though the articles will have no substance and are just filler on a computer screen. George’s Brigade is not just a “weird trick” and is a program that benefits “high-need, high-performing” students from the Baltimore and DC areas who most likely never would have been able to afford WC tuition and fees without taking out monster loans that would follow them around for the rest of their lives. The program is financed through generous donations from firms such as M&T Bank and Bank of the West, as well as through private donations from alumnus H. Lawrence Culp, Jr., Chair of the Board of Visitors and Governors.
Though the program targets students of color, white students can also apply for admittance. These students would have gotten into the college anyway had they applied directly rather than through George’s Brigade, but as a benefit of enrolling through the program, they are given additional funds after scholarships and financial aid to make the cost of attendance next to nothing.
Unfortunately, moving from an area where you know people to a new place where you might not know anyone may feel daunting, especially if the socioeconomic differences are great. This is a big deterrent for many low-income students, and may push them more towards schools that they know already in their area rather than places like WC. Due to this, the program allows for students to enroll “with a buddy,” someone from their high school who also meets criteria for admission. The student and their friend both receive the same benefits and once they get to WC, they can feel more at home.
A lot of information at WC is spread via word of mouth without support for the claims that are made. When it comes to George’s Brigade, most students have not done the research into what the program is about and how it works from an admissions and financial standpoint. After I looked into George’s Brigade’s true intentions and implementations and stopped being caught up in just the headlines and bits of information that others were saying, a full picture appeared of the great work that President Bair and others who put the idea into motion have accomplished. When students and others in the school community see sources referring to George’s Brigade as a “weird trick,” it diminishes the importance of the project for not only those in the program but the school as a whole. It is an insult to the hard work and dedication that those close to the project have put in to making the idea a reality and may make people think that WC only wants to help these students because they are students of color and we need to be more diverse which feeds into a white savor complex that we need to avoid. These students did not gain admission solely because of the color of their skin but because WC believes that everyone deserves an equal opportunity for a great college education without having to feel as though you are paying too much to receive one. $20,000 may not seem like a lot for an institution like WC, but to someone else, that means a world of difference.