Ryan Chartrand

Am I the only poor person here? It definitely feels that way.

And my feeling is right; the average college student is more than 60 percent wealthier than the average citizen, according to a study by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP).

Using data from more than 1,800 colleges and 11 million students, CIRP discovered that the national median family income of incoming freshmen in 2005 was $74,000, 60 percent higher than the national average income of $46,326.

However, it does not take a study of several million students to notice the difference between the affluence of college students and the average American population. When looking around the Cal Poly campus, the difference is obvious. The average Cal Poly student’s path to their classes weaves through a sea of UGG boots, iPhones, iPods, Louis Vuitton purses and True Religion jeans, items that all cost $200 and up. The middle-income student, as well as the low-income student, is nearly invisible in this sea of material wealth.

“I think there are more people here who appear to be affluent, but that doesn’t mean they have the resources to attend here,” said Lois Kelly, Cal Poly’s financial aid director.

Kelly said that although the number of financial aid applicants has decreased in the past five years, the remaining applicants are just as needy despite their elevated income levels. In 2001, 56 percent of financial aid applicants at Cal Poly came from families with incomes more than $60,000. This year the percentage rose to 63 percent.

Although more and more wealthy students wander toward the world of student loans, this doesn’t make the atmosphere at Cal Poly any kinder to the disappearing low-income student.

I cannot count the number of classes I have taken in which my professors and “peers” have simply assumed no one in the class was familiar with poverty, thought everyone had help in some form or another from their parents, and suggested that poverty isn’t that bad. One professor even had the audacity to say “an A is more important than food and shelter.”

Well, it may seem like that to someone who has never been forced to go without either food or shelter, but for someone like me, an “A” is the least of my concerns. I have lived out of a car, snuck into gyms to take showers, went days without food – not because I wanted to, or that the safety of a roof over my head and food in my mouth wasn’t all that valuable, but because I had no choice. It is those moments that made me want to go college in the first place; I never wanted to be homeless or hungry again, no matter what.

I think the only reason the professor made the statement is because he simply – and almost correctly – assumed no one in his class was dangling close to that edge. However, I am; screw an A if it means I have to fall over that edge once again.

But people like me are a very small minority at Cal Poly, a minority that is quickly disappearing. In 2001, 4.5 percent of students who applied for financial aid at Cal Poly qualified for an automatic zero Expected Family Contribution on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, is how much money a student’s family is expected to contribute to the student’s college education. This amount helps the government determine how much aid- in the form of grants and loans – it will offer a student. Students with families who earn under $13,000 a year automatically receive a zero for their EFC. This year the number of Cal Poly students who qualified for an automatic zero fell below 4 percent.

I know many would say, “Who cares? Get a job!” For those of you who say that: I work two jobs and an occasional third. Low-income students provide diversity to a campus of students who have known very little hardship; they provide new types of ideas and new perspectives. Finally, isn’t it a bit repugnant and stagnant for our economy to merely circulate education and wealth in a small group of people in the upper echelons of society? I doubt that’s what Jesus would do.

Angela Marie Watkins is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily reporter.

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