The Real Cost of College
By Megan Hakes and Garth Beyer
College is a gateway to sacrifices. Students go out for dinner instead of paying rent on time. Some barely sleep because they have to work late nights to pay for tuition. Still other students sacrifice meals to pay the membership fee of a club.
“I basically wiped out everything I had so I could continue going to my classes,” college senior Kathryn Olson said. “Education is more important to me than my apartment.”
Over the past 10 years, University of Wisconsin-Madison tuition increased by approximately $1,000 every two years for in-state students. There are similar scenes at other colleges and universities around the nation, leaving many students with debt, stress and little sleep. The rising expense of higher education also has left some students feeling like they must make sacrifices.
Olson has done everything she can to pay for college herself including applying for every research and volunteer program she could to receive the $500-600 stipends. “Everything else came out of pocket,” she said. “I worked my ass off.” - Kathryn Olson, NIU
In a survey we administered to 53 college students, more than half of the respondents noted that to pay for college, they are sacrificing sleep, going out to eat, vacation, new shoes and clothes, time, extracurricular activities, going to concerts and going home to visit family.
Other sacrifices respondents make to pay for college are need-based. Of survey respondents:
15 percent have sacrificed personal hygiene products
23 percent have sacrificed winter apparel
28 percent have sacrificed dentist appointments
30 percent have sacrificed doctor appointments
Respondents said they make these sacrifices because they believe a good job is dependent on their college education, they do not want to burden their parents with their own debt and they believe if they struggle now, they will benefit later.
When asked how making these sacrifices feels, respondents reported feeling “ambivalent, resentful and trapped.” Some respondents were upset because they could not afford to eat, while others tried to focus on the positive. “I feel like the sacrifices are necessary and part of the college ‘experience’ although I wish this were not so,” a respondent said.
Students’ stories about paying for college put these numbers into perspective.
UW-Madison student Ian Wegger currently feels the financial stress of his fifth year of college.
Prior to attending UW-Madison, Wegger attended Ripon College on a football scholarship. Halfway through his first semester, he got a concussion and post-concussive syndrome that was so bad he could not watch TV, play video games or do his homework. He had to drop from five classes to two.
“I dropped below full-time student standing and that also led to me losing my scholarships,” Wegger said. “Within about six to eight weeks after getting there, I went from paying nothing to paying for everything.”
He took out loans to pay for school.
“I felt very small,” Wegger said. “When I had to resort to taking out a private loan to pay for that, I really felt like I was going backwards.”
Wegger transferred to UW-Madison halfway through his sophomore year because it is more affordable and he could live at home with his family. After commuting to school for a semester, he wanted to live on campus so he would feel less isolated.
“Basically my big connections were the random people I saw on the bus every day,” Wegger said. “Some of them were homeless, some of them were crazy. I always talked to one women who thought she was Aretha Franklin. She would sing the whole way on the bus. She was pretty good. I probably had more conversations with her than my classmates that year.”
But Wegger could not afford to live on campus so the House Fellow position seemed like a perfect solution.
“I applied to be a House Fellow not only for the financial help with tuition because of the stipend, but also because they would pay for my food,” Wegger said.
Despite the money he saved through the House Fellow position, Wegger is still concerned with his finances and his future.
“My dad always reminds me, ‘You know, I got that job and I barely had my high school diploma,’ and it’s hard because I feel like even going to college, that won’t get you far anymore and that’s hard to explain to my parents who have not gone to college,” Wegger said.
“I really hope that my investment pays off, that with going to college I can be financially stable down the line, I don’t have to go paycheck to paycheck like my dad still does. Now that he’s retired, I make more money than he does in a year.”
UW-Madison student and House Fellow Josh Adams said he is concerned with the strain his education puts on his parents.
“My parents have helped me out somewhat and I kind of regret making them pay for that and help me, even though I know it’s their choice,” Adams said.
“I really wish I could have found a way to do it without having them help me out or without having to take out loans,” Adams said. “You might think it is great now, you might be prepared for the loans now, but ten years down the road when you’re still paying off the loan, will you regret it?”
“Don’t do something you’re going to regret later on in life,” Adams said.
Similar to Wegger and Adams, Columbia College senior and Resident Assistant (RA) Nicholas McDowell bases many of his decisions on his ability to pay for college. He sacrifices much of his "down time" to be sure he can continue to attend school by working as an RA, a Writing Center tutor and an assistant coordinator for Columbia's AP Summer Institute.
“Holding all of those positions on top of a double major in the honors program has kept me focused academically, but I haven't had the ‘extracurricular’ lifestyle enjoyed by most college students,” he said.
There are times when McDowell wishes he had more free time or at least more time to relax, but he enjoys staying busy and getting the most out of his time at Columbia.
McDowell recognizes the financial benefits he works hard for are worth the sacrifices he makes.
“Remember why you're in college,” he said. “If you are only there to party and live it up, you could save yourself a lot of debt and time by staying home.”
“I’m scared of graduating and having to choose a job to make money rather than what I actually want to do. I need to choose a job that’s going to make money, regardless of whether I want to do it or not, just to get out of debt so that I can start my real career.”
- Brenna Adamski
Unlike McDowell who is working hard to make the most of his four years, Loyola University graduate Katie Christensen worked hard to complete college in just two years.
Katie Christensen, a graduate of Loyola University, set out to graduate in two years rather than the traditional four so she could spend less money on tuition.
“I sacrificed a lot of sleep and sanity to get through college,” she said. “I crammed in credits and overexerted myself for the two years I went to Loyola.”
Christensen received more than $24,000 in scholarships, but still graduated with more than $35,000 in loans. It was financially worth it to graduate in only two years, but the sacrifices she made to do so might not have been worth it, Christensen added.
“My financial situation didn’t allow me to have the college experience people envision for young adults,” she said.
Thousands of students around the country likely have similar stories about the sacrifices they make to pay for school. Susan Fischer, director of financial aid at UW-Madison, thinks attending higher education and especially a school of UW-Madison’s caliber is a privilege and not a sentence where one has to give up this and that.
“From where I sit, the parents of undergrads are the ones really giving up things so their kids can attend; the students are working but that is a positive and not necessarily a negative,” Fischer said. “I guess it boils down to why someone is here.”
When students say they have to give up something for school, it is often for a school experience, not a degree. The total average cost for in-state students to attend UW-Madison is $23,721, with $10,402 going specifically to tuition and mandatory fees. The additional $13,319 is dedicated to transportation, books, miscellaneous costs and room and board, money students have control over.
While some people struggle to afford school, it is not sacrifice, it is life, according to Fischer.
Success in college revolves around making smart decisions. Students choose whether or not to have a job, to apply for an RA position, to eat out or to drink their wallets dry. In the process, they try to remember that the sacrifices they make now will be worth it down the line.
A Student Comparison
By Garth Beyer
When you look deeper into the lives of students who pay for everything themselves and students who have all their tuition paid for by their parents, you might just discover the lifestyle stereotypes of both aren't really upheld.
While very few situations are exactly alike, hearing the story of a student who pays for everything himself offers the ability to generalize about the lifestyles of other students who are completely responsible for financing their education. I sat down with UW Madison student Ryan Ebben to hear his story.
Students who you think have it all, just might not have it all. UW Madison student Logan Colla has his entire tuition paid for by his parents, but he doesn't have the lifestyle you may think that provides. Click the play button below to hear his story.
Higher Ed, Not Debt
By Michael Kuca
Although the “Higher Ed, Lower Debt” bill has been voted down in both the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly, the bill is not dead just yet.
“I will reintroduce this bill in the next session and hope that my Republican colleagues will then join me in seeing the urgency of addressing the student loan debt crisis," Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said.
The bill aims to help Wisconsin’s student loan borrowers in four major ways.
One, it will allow borrowers to deduct their student loan payments from their income taxes. Two, it will enable borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates. Three, it will provide students and parents with information about loans and ensure students receive loan counseling. Four, it will make sure data about student loan debt in Wisconsin is collected and tracked in order to better understand the student loan debt crisis.
The bill also helps prospective borrowers by providing detailed information to students before they enter into loan agreements, collecting and disseminating information about private student loans lenders and requiring the Higher Education Aid Board to track information about student loan debt.
According to Mason and Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, the bill can alleviate the burden of student loans both for borrowers and on the economy, yet Wisconsin’s Republican legislators voted against the bill.
“The entire bill does nothing to actually address the problem of student loan debt,” Megan Cramer, first vice chairwoman for the College Republicans of UW-Madison said. “Most of it is requiring colleges to give handouts about financial aid. Secondly, the refinancing of student loans does not provide any collateral for the bank or state. We need to look for actual solutions that get to the gut of the issue that is the cost of education.”
When it comes to the bill, the lack of collateral for the state is the most pressing issue.
“It would essentially turn student loans into car loans which does not work because there is no collateral for the bank or state to collect if borrowers default on their loans,” said Charlie Hoffmann, chairman for the College Republicans of UW-Madison.
To prevent borrowers from defaulting on their loans, the bill would require the state to evaluate borrowers’ qualifications before issuing loans. Furthermore, the state would use bonding as its tool to refinance loans, which means tax dollars will not be used for refinancing, according to the bill.
According to One Wisconsin Now, there are around 753,000 Wisconsin residents with student loan debt, and according to the U.S. Federal Reserve, Wisconsin borrowers collectively have around $16.8 billion in outstanding student loan debt.
The average Wisconsin student loan borrower has roughly $22,000 debt.
Though Gov. Scott Walker has frozen tuition costs for the UW system until the end of the next academic year, student loan debt is still a pressing economic issue for not just the state, but also the entire country. According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, there is more than $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.
"I hope to see more movement in the next session, but I am not optimistic,” Haley Young, chairwoman for the College Democrats of UW-Madison said. “The Wisconsin GOP tends to have a very negative opinion towards higher education, so reform on that front will likely require electoral success for Democrats.”
How Student Loans Have Changed
By Mackenzie Chaffee
I’ve heard it far too many times during my four years here at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Sitting around a table at State Street Brats on a Friday night, one friend, buzzing from two pitchers of beer, offers to buy the table a round; nonchalantly telling her group it’s on her because she has, “loan debt, and a few more bucks doesn’t matter.”
Student tuition has increased over the years, causing more students to take out significant amounts of student loans. Many of these students, have accepted the fact that they are sitting on large amounts of debt they will not be able to pay back in full anytime soon.
According to the Wisconsin Alumni Association, a full class load at the UW-Madison cost $503 per semester for Wisconsin residents and $1,745 for nonresidents in 1980. Today, tuition per semester is $5,201.68 for Wisconsin residents and $13,326.52 for nonresidents.
Data released by the The Institute of College Access and Success says that 68 percent of college graduates in Wisconsin have student loan debt, and the average amount of debt is $28,102.
Michael Chaffee, a 1987 graduate of UW-Madison, sympathizes with today’s graduates.
“I was able to pay back my loans within a year of graduating, which most students did then,” Chaffee said. “I sometimes wonder if students will ever be able to pay their student loans back.”
The U.S. Department of Education says that often, students do not read the fine print when taking out loans and feel stuck when they begin paying their loans back.
To learn about student loan interest, balance, and loan types, visit 5 Things You Need To Know About Your Student Loans
Credit Card Debt
Credit card debt continues to rise among students despite legislation
By Tricia Fishbune
The Credit Card Act of 2009 successfully decreased the number of credit cards issued to young people under the age of 21. However, according to Credit.com, one of the main issues still remains among youth: students are not offered enough financial management education. Students who are 21 and get a credit card lack as much responsible knowledge as 18-year-olds.
A year after the Credit Card Act was passed, the number of students under the age of 21 with a credit card dropped by 15 percent, according to a study conducted by Federal Reserve Bank researcher Peter Debaut, Arizona State University Associate Professor Andra Ghent and economist Marianna Kudlyak. The Credit Card Act banned credit card companies from targeting students and prohibited those under the age of 21 from obtaining a credit card without proof of income or a cosigner. Additionally, credit card marketers offering gifts such as free t-shirts or pizza are not allowed within 1,000 feet of any university.
Yet the decrease among young credit card holders might not have been a good thing, according to the authors of the study. They found those between the ages of 21 and 23 are significantly more likely to have an overdue payment of 90 days or more than those ages 18 to 20, which is considered a serious financial default. The results show that age is not a determinant in poor credit card use.
Financial Specialist at the UW Credit Union Lindsey Larson said they encourage students in Madison to sign up for a credit card. She says there are roughly about 70 percent of UW students that have an account through the UW Credit Union and 50 percent of those have a credit card.
“Usually we have students come in with their parents at orientation and the parents are very skeptical at first because things can quickly get out of hand with credit cards,” Larson said. “But we push them to get credit cards because we see many students come out of college with no credit score and they can’t get loans for an apartment.”
Despite the Credit Card Act, the UW Credit Union still issues credit cards to students without formal proof of income.
“We just go by the student’s word of what their job is and how much they’re making along with other factors,” Larson said.
According to Debaut, Ghent and Kudlyak’s study, the age of the students receiving the credit card does not predict whether or not they will be in financial debt in the future.
The study shows that those who are more financially literate tend to get credit cards at a younger age and in turn, learn how to manage credit better than those who are less financially literate and get credit cards later.
Although the Credit Card Act of 2009 aimed to protect students, UW-Madison Junior Sam Hageman still found herself in credit card debt.
“The bank told me all the interest rates, but I definitely think there should be classes in school on how to manage credit cards,” Hageman said. “Many students think the money comes out of thin air and it doesn’t so they get into trouble.”
Larson said that she has seen much less marketing toward students since she was in college in 2002, but credit card debt rates among students have been steadily increasing since then.
“I think that more students need to learn about credit cards and make sure that they understand all of the numbers before they start using one so they can build credit instead of hurting it,” Larson said.
Out-of-State vs. In-State
By Garth Beyer
Three University of Wisconsin-Madison students answer the question,
“Why did you choose an out-of-state school?”
Non-resident student Nancy Payne said:
“I chose an out-of-state school because I wasn't interested in any of the universities in Illinois. The University of Illinois's tuition for a resident was more expensive, than the University of Wisconsin's tuition for a non-resident.
Thankfully, I have a small family and my parents were prepared to take care of the majority of my college tuition if it was under $40,000 a year. I have a few loans that I am prepared to take care of after I graduate, but I was fully aware that this would be the case if I chose a university that did not give me a scholarship.
Finances were not a huge factor between choosing in-state versus out-of-state because the in-state schools that were less expensive were not at the level of difficulty I was searching for. If the University of Illinois's tuition was close to the same as the University of Wisconsin's resident rate, I would have been much more inclined to choose U of I.”
Non-resident student Lanni Solochek said:
“I chose to go out-of-state because I spent my entire life in Arizona. I knew college was the easiest way to experience living far away from home because I’m not technically tied down to being here. I’m here for school and then I can go anywhere I want after graduation.
I’m actually graduating a full year early to save money, but I am really lucky to have parents who planned for me to go out-of-state, so I haven’t had to do too much scholarship stuff or financial aid.
Finances did factor in. When I was looking at schools, my dad nailed down a budget that would pay for four years of out-of-state tuition straight from my college fund. I only looked at schools within our budget from there and Madison fit.”
Non-resident student Na Chen said:
“Like most Chinese students, I referred to a ranking by U.S. News & World Report. From their website, I had a general idea about every American school, such as the academic quality, extracurricular activities and the city the school is located in. I would use the website as a start point then dig through other channels.
The two main reasons I chose UW-Madison are that the general ranking is high and its J-school is good. As far as the tuition, since my family is very supportive of my education and they can afford it, we don't really take this factor into consideration.
I think the school should make it clear to the public how the money is spent. I feel kind of powerless on this issue because basically I can't do anything as an international student.”
Luxury Leases for a Few
By Phebe Myers
Look out the window of any building in downtown Madison, and rather than a beautiful view of the Capital or Lake Mendota, all you see are cranes. These cranes are proof of the massive escalation of luxury high rise apartments in Madison.
Many of these expansions have been catered to meet students demand. In 2013 alone, 4,000 new units were either built or planned, and 25 percent of those were student housing, Steve Cover, Madison’s director of planning said.
Though these apartment complexes have been a positive change in the eyes of local landlords and developers, many of the new developments have torn down older buildings or shut down local businesses.
When Boardwalk Investment began building their new highrise ‘Park Place’ on Mifflin Street, there was backlash from the city.
“There was opposition from the locals,” Tammy Lange, manager of Palisade Property said.
“People that have lived here for 30 years [were upset]...because they were losing their laundromat and they were losing their local flavor.”
The recently developed HUB, a 12 story building with 22,000 square feet of retail space, and 329 residential units, displaced local businesses like Buraka, Husnus, and Kabul in the 500 block of State Street.
Palisade Property is currently developing their own top-of-the-line luxury apartment, ‘The Waterfront,’ where a one-bedroom starts at $1,425 per person. Lange says renting for this property has been really successful.
“The demand is there [for luxury apartments],” Lange said. “I think the city of Madison has finally realized that the houses from the early 1900s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘60s are just not what the students are interested in living in anymore.”
Cover said city officials are expecting Madison to see growth for the next 20 to 25 years.
“We want to see the downtown continuously grow; really it’s the hub for the entire city,” Cover said.
With roughly 1,000 units approved for student housing in 2013 alone, Cover wonders how these properties will lease out.
“I would say most of the student housing that was approved probably is medium price to high price,” Cover said.
“There’s a big demand for nicer higher priced student housing. That surprises me a little... We’ll see how well it fills up once they finish.”
Lange also questions whether or not developers have overshot the market.
“I think we [Madison] are going to get a little bit overbuilt but we [at Palisades] offer a quality product, so we are not concerned,” Lange said.
These developments have been an interest for Madison community officials as well. Ledell Zellers, a city alder, said she is worried if student finances will allow them to live in these apartments.
“A large question I would say is cost,” Zellers said. “All of the newer buildings are more expensive and most by quite a bit more than the rentals that they are replacing.”
Zellers is a supporter of high-rise development for the most part but has concerns about the future maintenance as well as a respect of historical buildings.
“I think that some [high-rise development] is good and having a diversity of choices is good,” Zellers said. “I think as a city we are better off if we define our plans, articulate our vision and then atest to that when we are doing and improving new developments, and sometimes I think that we let private profit and tax base trump all of our other values, and that bothers me.”
Cover said he sees this increase of development as a positive step for planning in Madison.
“I think there’s been a shortage for a long time [of luxury developments] and not all of them are luxury,” Cover said. “I just think that there’s a demand there and the development community has recognized that...the market is there.”
A Housing Comparison
By Madeleine Behr
Crappy, dirty and fun – three words University of Wisconsin-Madison junior Buddy Palozola uses to describe his rented house near Camp Randall Stadium.
Living with chipped lead paint, no dishwasher, sieve-like windows and carpet so archaic and dirty that white socks are encrusted with dust and dirt, Palozola said he and his roommates never go barefoot, even in their own house.
Palozola and his eight roommates said despite the negative attributes of their nearly 100-year-old house, they chose it for the inexpensive rent of $400 a month per person.
“Not many houses could hold as many people as we wanted, and it was cheap,” Palozola said. “The only reason Andy [their ninth roommate] is living with us is because we decided to throw on a ninth roommate so we could drive the price down even further.”
Living cheaply is of the utmost importance when paying for all college-related expenses yourself, fellow roommate Louie Pawela said.
However, for UW senior Julia Birkinbine, cost was a factor in deciding where to live but not as important as other amenities her apartment in the Brownhouse offered.
At just over $800 a month for her and her roommate, Birkinbine said her two-bedroom apartment is a great value for the price.
“When I explain we have a washer and dryer, dishwasher and garbage disposal, I think people are like, ‘Oh okay, that makes sense and seems more reasonable,’ but it is definitely more on the higher end of the price range for housing,” Birkinbine said.
She added its location near State Street and Langdon Street and complete furnishings made the apartment more appealing, especially with only one other roommate.
Palozola and Pawela said their house is a perfect location for UW football games and its proximity to engineering buildings, as four of the nine roommates study engineering.
Despite its positive attributes, fellow roommates John Vandenhouten and Spencer Sebo said their rent is too high for the quality of the house, which Sebo described as moldy and “falling apart.”
The roommates also chose to save money by reducing their thermostat’s temperature to 60 degrees, Sebo said, saving them nearly $150 a month.
In early fall, Sebo installed window insulation to keep the house warmer, rather than suffer with thin windows, Sebo said.
“Are we still overpaying for it though? F*** yes,” Sebo said.
Palozola said landlords will likely not update their home, like installing better heating systems, because “they know students are going to rent the house no matter what.” They chose multiple fleece blankets, winter hats, sweatshirts, slippers and other layers were chosen over paying a higher heating bill.
“We’re alive, but is it comfortable? Absolutely not. But when your house is heated by radiators, you don’t have much choice,” Pawela added.
Birkinbine said she knows she could have lived in less expensive housing to save money if she wanted, but the “quality of the apartment, amenities we have, and location really outweighed the higher cost.”
Andy Vegel, another roommate in the Camp Randall house, said students are meant to live cheaply in college.
“My idea of college is living cheaply and not worrying about other things like health, money, where you are going to live in eight years,” Vegel said. “It’s just kind of an in-the-moment thing. This house represents college.”
Vets and Cadets
By Andie Burjek
A small percentage of University of Wisconsin-Madison students don’t worry about paying for college like traditional student do. They pay for school in a different way: by serving in the military.
Some students join the Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) for the Army, Navy or Air Force. These cadets keep up their grades, physical fitness and military studies in order to receive education benefits that include tuition, money for books and a stipend for housing. They are committed to some branch of the military for several years after graduation.
A UW-Madison student recounts his experience:
Veterans who have already served used to receive benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill, which doesn’t cover full tuition or any other expenses. It was modified after media uproar about its inadequacies in the 2000’s. Now, under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, a veteran who has served after September 10, 2001 can afford college without outside income.
An ex-marine recounts his experience:
Neither cadets nor vets receive long-term benefits like health-insurance or pensions unless they serve around 20 years, but for the short-term, these students can at least receive education benefits and avoid student loans in the future.
For veterans, though, these benefits are dependent on something very fickle: state residency. Where a veteran has lived and where he has served may not dictate where he gets the best deal for his education.
Serving the Country and Losing Your State
A veteran seeking education benefits at the University of Wisconsin-Madison may experience an identity crisis: Veterans who have lived in Wisconsin for years may not be considered Wisconsin residents.
Bechtol said one man from Minnesota served as a medic in the Air Force and lived in Wisconsin for three years after he left the military. He still could not get in-state tuition. The post-9/11 GI Bill only offers veterans in-state tuition, and so this veteran would have to pay out of pocket for the rest.
He thought about reciprocity from Minnesota, but that also did not work for him because his whole life was in Wisconsin, Bechtol said.
“You own a home in Wisconsin, you vote in Wisconsin, you have a Wisconsin driver’s license, your vehicles are registered in Wisconsin, your kids go to school in Wisconsin, and you’ve been living there for 36 months. And you think you’re a Minnesota resident?” Bechtol said. “He was a resident of nowhere for tuition in either state.”
Ohio, Indiana and Michigan are among the 30 states that have changed their laws so all veterans are granted in-state tuition. Wisconsin has yet to change its regulations, but it may have no choice should the federal law guaranteeing in-state tuition for all veterans passes.
The UW System is opposed to that federal law, Bechtol said.
“You’re on the wrong side of the tracks when this train comes around because I can tell you, it’s gonna pass. It doesn’t cost the federal government anything,” he said.
The House passed it unanimously in February, and the Senate will vote later this year.
Does It Get Easier?
Recent Grads Tell Their Stories of Financial Life after College
By Steve Horn
Mike Halbach is a December 2013 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He is currently living in Chicago, Ill. and working for KPMG as a tax associate. Mike worked for the Wisconsin Union and two construction companies during his time in school to bear some of the financial burdens of college. Mike now has a steady salary and is well on his way to paying off his loans, but still hopes to give back to his parents in the near future.
“Working, and having a little extra money in my pocket, that was the only way for me to be able to go out to the bars on the weeks or do something fun with my friends.”
Alexa Radi is a May 2013 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She is currently living in Madison and working as an RN at Meriter Hospital. Alexa worked two jobs throughout college to uphold a deal with her parents where she paid for half of everything from room and board to tuition. Not only is Alexa finding the costs of the real world difficult, she is trying to adapt to working and living in the town of her alma mater without enjoying the carefree lifestyle of a college student.
“There are things you don’t think about when you’re going to school.”
Raising a Family and Going to School
By Katie Caron
Life as a student parent
For many, years spent in college are some of the most selfish ones of their life. While some students on University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus are primarily concerned with their own tuition, grades, rent, groceries and bar tabs, others are putting another life first.
For student parents like partners Kristen Bednar and Austin Pethan, having a child can bring new challenges and sacrifices in pursuing education and trying to be a normal 20-something. Their baby Ari was born in October of 2013, which led Bednar to take a year off of school. She now works at a yoga studio while he continues at UW-Madison with a part-time job and plans to graduate this fall.
Bednar, who is waiting to hear back on fall admission to UW-Madison’s School of Nursing, said having a child has impacted her relationship, social life and entire outlook.
“It’s definitely been challenging not being in school, and things in my life are not at all as I expected or planned,” she said. “But I think it’s been really character building… and I have a beautiful angel of a baby.”
Financing a young family
Bednar said having a baby and moving in together has also affected the couple’s financial situation. They both work and receive support from their parents, which she said can be hard because they are grateful but want to be more fully independent.
For student parents looking for financial assistance beyond scholarships and their own means, UW-Madison’s Office of Child Care and Family Resources offers a grant-based financial assistance program called The Child Care Tuition Assistance Program.
CCTAP Program Coordinator and Parent Resource Specialist at the OCCFR Jen Dittrich-Templin said the program provides semester-long grants funded by student segregated fees to UW-Madison students to help cover child care costs.
“There’s no way full-time students can go to school full time and pay for child care services,” Dittrich-Templin said. “Everything regarding children these days is very expensive.”
She said the CCTAP program serves about 250 students each year, with 25 percent of those being undergraduates. She said grants awarded are need-based and also take into account full-time versus part-time enrollment, the age of the student’s child and other factors. She said everyone who applied for CCTAP assistance this year’s fall and spring semester received it, but waiting lists tend to be longer in the summer.
While Bednar said she hasn’t applied for CCTAP funds, she has applied for financial aid. But, she said financing has been made easier by she and Pethan’s pooled money which they dubbed “The Fund” during a semester they took off to travel together their sophomore year. When they were having a baby it seemed natural to pool that fund into a joint bank account while maintaining personal accounts, she said.
“In some ways we’ve had to become like business partners sort of, with financial planning and making decisions like religious or medical decisions for her,” she said.
Ultimately though, Bednar said being a young parent has ironically seemed easier than being older one since she isn’t simultaneously juggling a career or other undertakings associated with later life stages.
“A lot a lot of older moms will complain about finances, but since we have so little money to begin with it’s like we don’t have to worry about things like mortgages or things like that,” she said.
Finding a balance
On top of finances, being a student parent brings its difficulties in juggling other aspects of life.
Dittrich-Templin said time is often the biggest factor that can be difficult for student parents to balance.
“They’re full-time students and full-time parents and still need to work,” she said. “There’s just not enough hours in the day to do all that, so often what gets cut is the hours worked which can become difficult.”
While Bednar said she’s seen her relationship transform and become stronger, there’s only so much time for down time.
“A lot of the romantic fun things that you do in relationships, especially in college, we don’t do anymore,” she said. “We have to get a babysitter to go out, or we’re just too tired to go out.”
Pethan said he’s seen their relationship change in that they see each other in more lights than before both through living together and relying on each other closely in raising Ari.
He said while he is happy being a father and working as a team, his life has become a “huge balancing act.” He said juggling all of his commitments and passions can be taxing at times.
“Right now I have four things in my life: I have my family and friends, I have school, I have climbing and then I have work, and none of those things really overlap,” he said. “Fatherhood totally dominates and is the foundation on how those other things play into my life.”
He also said being a 22-year-old, it can be difficult being in such a different life stage than his friends and peers. He added finding free time to get space to go for a walk is difficult with the baby and he and Bednar relying on each other so much. But, he said, the little things make it all worth it.
“When Ari smiles at me it’s so incredibly rewarding and so genuine, and it’s like suddenly all that hard work and stress that you had is easily uplifted,” he said.
On top of the CCTAP program, UW-Madison’s OCCFR offers other resources for students. The office coordinates the campus child care centers, helps with fundraising, and operates as a hub for students, faculty and staff seeking child care or other resources related to parenting.
Dittrich-Templin said the OCCFR is “very unique” and that student parents often give feedback that the office helped them to stay in school. She said part of her job in addition to coordinating CCTAP is putting together parent education resources.
While Pethan and Bednar said they haven’t used the OCCFR yet as they haven’t both been going to school simultaneously since Ari’s birth, she said they might consider using the child care services in the fall if they overlap a semester.
As for other resources, Bednar she said she avoids the nursing rooms offered around campus which are often next to restrooms or basements and feel “shameful.”
Both Pethan and Bednar expressed an interest in starting a student organization on campus for student parents to connect with each other. They expressed feeling alienated or isolated despite being on a large campus and knowing they aren’t the only undergraduate student parents.
“What I would like to see more on campus—and maybe I’ll make this happen when I go back—is more support for women in my situation,” she said. “I felt really isolated and like there was no one else like me out there, but in a school of 40,000 I know there are more women out there.”
Is It Worth the Extra Cost?
By Mary Kate McCoy
Food, housing, school, travel and entertainment hurt the budget at home, but when studying abroad, these expenses are taken to another level.
“Study abroad is expensive. You are paying for additional costs that you wouldn’t be on campus,” UW-Madison International Academic Programs (IAP) Associate Director Julie Lindsey said.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison takes studying abroad seriously. Last year, more than 2,000 students studied abroad, ranking it the sixth in the nation.
“Many undergrads are just trying to get by, to have enough money to pay for the next meal, or go out with friends on the weekend,” Lindsey said. “So it’s really hard to do a cost analysis of what the benefit is going to be in the long term.”
UW-Madison vigorously promotes the cultural understanding and career benefits of studying abroad, but with many students struggling to pay tuition and expenses at home, students have to evaluate whether studying abroad is a wise investment worth the extra cost.
Tera Becker, a senior at UW-Madison, studied abroad spring 2013 in Greece. Becker said her financial aid transferred, but she had to take out a private loan to cover the extra cost, which she said will take her a long time to pay back.
“For me it was worth it, for all of my experiences, no monetary value can be placed on them,” Becker said. “But I definitely think I paid more for the experience than maybe it was worth, or at least than I could have if I had done it on my own.”
Becker said the security and guidance provided through her program were helpful and influential in her decision to study abroad through the university, but the price is still higher than it should be.
“I don’t regret the experience, so in the long run, I’ll pay whatever I have to, and work however hard I have to, to pay for it,” Becker said. “But, I think I would caution someone thinking about it, at least without looking into other options first.”
Not only are most programs more expensive than UW-Madison tuition, but other expenses add up. The IAP estimates nearly $5,000 in additional expenses for one of its most popular semester programs in Seville, Spain.
Students have more control over additional expenses which includes local transportation, books and supplies, personal expenses and airfare, but it also depends greatly on each city’s cost of living. The exchange rate and ATM fees also contribute to student’s extra expenses.
Students do not pay UW-Madison tuition while they are abroad, but their financial aid does transfer to their program costs. However, the price of each program varies greatly, from lower than the cost of attendance at UW-Madison to more than $30,000 per semester.
“Students that are getting Pell Grants, a federal need-based grant to low-income undergrads, can actually study abroad because they can usually find a program that falls within the cost of attendance range,” Lindsey said. “Students with higher family contributions are going to have to rely more on private loans and scholarships.”
Last year, more than $875,000 in scholarships was awarded to students from high to moderate financial needs. The scholarship program was recently revamped to be more strategic and award more money to effectively assist students with costs.
Students not only need to consider the cost of the semester spent abroad, but also whether it will affect future semesters at home.
UW-Madison senior Molly Palzkill was accepted to study abroad in Ireland, but turned the offer down when she realized she would need to stay an extra semester to make up for lost time.
“I found out I would only be able to take one class that would have counted towards my major,” Palzkill said. “To me, paying extra for a semester to take fluff classes that would put me further in debt, I just couldn’t do it.”
Studying abroad can be great for students looking to add global focus, cross-cultural understanding and language fluency to their resume when applying for jobs out of college, but studying abroad does not inherently guarantee career advancement.
Many students view studying abroad as a chance to take time off of school, with a higher emphasis on partying with new friends than developing cultural fluency.
Other opportunities at a much lower price, such as enrolling directly into a foreign university, are available to students who are comfortable with more independence and want less hand holding. The cost will be significantly lower, but its crucial to research the costs of going it alone. Many foreign universities academic calendars do not align with American ones, and there is no guarantee course credit will transfer.
“You have to consider whether it [study abroad] is the type of cost that will be worthwhile in the long run when you look at everything you want to accomplish in your life,” Lindsey said. “That additional money, that may be the best money you spend in your college career.”
By Courtney Mullen
With high competition in the job market for college graduates, internship experience is a valuable factor for employers to consider when deciding whom to hire for an open position.
However in many fields today, these valuable resume builders often come in the form of unpaid internships that not all students are able to pursue, Pam Garcia-Rivera, a University of Wisconsin-Madison media information and communication career advisor, said.
“I think some students just can’t afford not to get paid while they are working,” Garcia-Rivera said.
Mimi Emmel is a UW-Madison junior majoring in English and Spanish. She plans on becoming a teacher someday but wishes she had time to get classroom experience now.
“If I only worked one [job] or if I didn’t have to work at all, I would definitely do more volunteering or try to find something that is more related to the area that I want to work in,” she said.
Emmel works part-time at a UW-Madison residence hall front desk and Victor Allen’s coffee shop to pay for rent and other bills.
Although Emmel said she has gained many skills from her two customer-service oriented jobs, she would give up one of her jobs to pursue an unpaid opportunity that would build her resume if she could.
“As far as lesson planning and seeing more of how a classroom works and stuff, I wish I had more time,” Emmel said. “I’m sure people who have more free time can do [these things.]”
Garcia-Rivera said she has noticed some students she advises are at a disadvantage if they are unable to pursue internship opportunities during college. Instead, these students have to seek out part time jobs in order to support themselves.
Maria Giannopoulos, a UW-Madison junior majoring in communication arts and political science, said she has found it difficult to obtain a paid internship in both of these fields due to the high level of competition.
Regarding her first internship, Giannopoulos said, “Not only did I not get paid, but I paid to go there.”
Giannopoulos spent summer 2013 in London interning in English Parliament. She said the experiences and skills she gained from this experience almost outweigh the fact that she was not paid for her work.
“Employers want to see that you took initiative,” Giannopoulos said. “You are at a disadvantage if you don’t do an internship.”
UW-Madison mechanical engineering student, junior Erin Daul, agreed with Giannopoulos that the experience gained in pursuing an internship is valuable.
“Companies really want you to have experience either from a co-op or internship before they hire you full-time after graduation,” Daul said. “When I look at my friends and other classmates, the people who have the easiest time finding jobs are those who already have job experience.”
Daul completed her first co-op from June to December 2013 with Cargill in Memphis, Tenn. She will move to Sioux City, Iowa this summer to complete an internship with the company.
According to Daul, unpaid internships in the engineering field are almost non-existent. She admits that she would never accept an unpaid position.
“Our engineering career services would have a fit if a company did not pay us,” Daul said.
Garcia-Rivera said she has noticed that many engineering companies and companies that appeal to business school degrees can afford to pay their interns while media, communications and political companies and organizations usually cannot.
“Probably from the company’s perspective they would say that they can afford to pay while some other companies would say that it is not affordable for them to pay for interns – especially after or during the recession,” Garcia-Rivera said.
A recent college graduate from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., Cooper Smith, said he thinks that engineering companies can pay their interns due to supply-and-demand.
“I imagine to work in engineering, you need to have certain skills,” Smith said. “Whereas a job in politics, a lot of people learn on the job.”
Smith graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2013. He is a firm believer that unpaid internships pay off in the end as long as interns show up to work and complete all tasks employers ask of them.
“I just wanted to get my feet wet in a job in a field that I wanted to work in,” Smith said. “I just went for whatever I could get.
Smith completed three unpaid internships during his college career, and is currently the Madison field director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
“If I didn’t do unpaid internships, I would not be sitting where I am today,” Smith said.
Since internships – either paid or unpaid – generally provide positive, real life experience for students, Garcia-Rivera does not discourage students from participating in unpaid opportunities. However, she stressed that internships should be learning experiences for the students since it is illegal to have someone work for free.
“The way the Department of Labor puts it, it shouldn’t be beneficial for an employer to hire an intern, so they shouldn’t really be getting anything out of it,” Garcia-Rivera said. “It’s more that they are giving something to the students.”
Garcia-Rivera said classes have been developed at UW-Madison for students with unpaid internships to receive academic credit for the work completed at their internship.
Garcia-Rivera helped develop an online class offered through the College of Letters and Science that is worth one credit. The class is designed to complement an internship through online blogging, a supplemental textbook and internship-related articles.
Giannopoulos is enrolled in this class since she is currently a hospitality intern at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Even though Giannopoulos gets paid at this internship, she expressed frustration with the fact that students have to pay for this class which is only one credit.
“Being in a one credit class for an internship that I dedicate most of my life to makes me so angry,” Giannopoulos said. “I work so much down here, sometimes 40 hours a week or more.”
Similarly, Daul said for the College of Engineering, students are able to take a “co-op class” for one credit.
Garcia-Rivera said internship classes offered through UW-Madison are often only for one credit because there is no way for the school to know if academic work is being completed at the internship itself and the credit is based on the work the students complete for the class itself.
“The only way you can receive academic credit is by completing academic work,” she said.
Since there are currently several lawsuits between companies and their former unpaid interns, Garcia-Rivera said she thinks regulations regarding unpaid internships might end in the future.
“It’s been a big issue that is really coming to light and more so over the last few years with the increase of unpaid interns as well as the expectation that students have completed internships,” Rivera said.
Smith said unpaid internships are still worthwhile because they open doors that might not have otherwise opened.
“If every single internship in America were to be paid, there just wouldn’t be any more internships,” Smith said.
The Textbooks They Are A-Changin'
By Esta Pratt-Kielley
As the end of the semester nears, many students find that procrastination has gotten the best of them. They open one of their brand new $150 textbooks, barely touched throughout the semester, only to find that at this point, it is not worth reading.
In a Textbook Affordability survey of 112 University of Wisconsin-Madison students, 97 percent said they have purchased textbooks at the beginning of the semester and rarely (or never) used them.
However despite this statistic, most respondents said they were concerned if they did not buy required textbooks, their grades would be affected.
Of course a lot students do end up using the textbooks they purchase for class. But the increasing cost of textbooks turns many students away from buying them at all.
A study produced by the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in January 2014 found that 65 percent of students decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive.
University Bookstore textbook buyer and department manager Steve Scheibel said he thinks textbook prices are too high for what students want and can afford.
“Unfortunately, the market says right now that this is the price that the textbook needs to be,” Scheibel said.
According to the Textbook Affordability survey, 82 percent of respondents spend over $100 for their textbooks each semester.
While not always as expensive as rent or other costs of living, many students pay for textbooks out of their own pockets.
Although 77 percent of the Textbook Affordability survey respondents said they did not pay for college tuition, over half said they paid for textbooks themselves.
Some new options have surfaced in recent years to offset expensive textbooks. Used book markets and rental programs offer books at reduced prices and many are sold in convenient online marketplaces.
Scheibel said online sites are the biggest competition for the store right now, specifically Amazon.
In the Textbook Affordability survey, almost half of the respondents said they bought the majority of their textbooks on Amazon.
“It’s a challenge,” Scheibel said. “Every bookseller realizes they’re competing with Amazon pricing.”
Many publishers are offering options online, like e-textbooks, which are cheaper than buying new books. However, publishers are also creating new editions of books every year in order to compete in the marketplace.
According to a 2007 PIRG study, “Exposing the Textbook Industry”, 71 percent of professors said new editions of textbooks were unnecessary.
“The used book sale is a lost book sale for the publisher,” Scheibel said.
UW-Madison sophomore Emily Rose bought all of her textbooks on Amazon this semester. She is financially independent and pays for everything, including tuition. She gets a lot of help from financial aid, but that does not help her with buying textbooks.
“I bought all of my textbooks on Amazon because it’s much, much cheaper than the bookstore,” Rose said. “Also, I know I can find used books on Amazon and sometimes the bookstore runs out of used books.”
Scheibel said part of his job is to ensure that the bookstore has a mixed inventory of new and used books. However, he said it is dependent on availability.
Students can sell their books back to the store, but the buyback price depends on what will happen to the book once it is bought back, Scheibel said.
“Only a third of textbooks are used in the immediate semester after they were purchased,” Scheibel said. “If it is going to be used the next semester, we usually pay half of the new price. The rest will be 10 to 15 percent of the new price, depending on the market at the time.”
Of those who did sell their textbooks back, half of the students who took the Textbook Affordability survey received less than a quarter of what they initially spent on their textbooks.
Because of this, students usually sell their books through Amazon and other online marketplaces or directly to other students.
“The used book market used to be local,” Scheibel said. “With Amazon, every book can find a buyer if there is one out there.”
Students are not the only ones hit hard by the textbook industry. Local, independent bookstores have suffered greatly in the last decade.
Both A Room of One’s Own Bookstore and Rainbow Bookstore said they were too short-staffed to have an interview.
However, many professors at UW-Madison continue to encourage students to purchase books from these locations.
“I try to order from small independent bookstores such as A Room of One’s Own and Rainbow Bookstore because they need the business,” Sandra Adell, UW-Madison gender and women’s studies professor, said.
Stephen Young, a UW-Madison geography professor, said he wants to make sure his students know independent bookstores exist.
“Increasingly, people in the U.S. buy books online or from a handful of large retailers,” Young said. “Or they buy e-books. I certainly wouldn't want the smaller, independent bookstores to disappear. Rainbow is a cooperative, so it has real roots in the local community.”
Numerous UW-Madison professors also put textbooks on reserve at College Library. However, while a great resource, many students find this to be less convenient than having their own copies.
According to the Textbook Affordability survey, price and convenience are the most important factors when buying textbooks. Yet often times, price trumps convenience, like in Rose’s situation.
“I still ended up spending around $300 for books this semester,” Rose said. “I had to buy 18 books, some textbooks and some novels. Some arrive in three to four days and others took two to three weeks. One didn’t come for a month and I had a test right before then, which was really, really inconvenient.”
Scheibel said there are two factors for students when looking for textbooks: price and preference.
“Many students prefer hard cover books over digital options,” Scheibel said. “But they take the digital because it is less expensive.”
The printed textbook industry has suffered in recent years. Only five textbook companies control more than 80 percent of the $8.8 billion publishing market.
“In the past seven years, the number of college publishers have gone down from about 30 to five,” Scheibel said.
These companies are McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, MacMillan Higher Education and John Wiley & Sons Publishing, according to Scheibel.
“Textbooks prices have risen three to four percent steadily since the 1970s, which is pretty close to inflation,” Scheibel said. “In recent years, however, they have been rising more than that.”
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, textbook prices have increased twice the rate of inflation in the last two decades.
Many experts say a change in the textbook market is around the corner. Supplemental learning materials are necessary for a college-level course, but at what price?
Steve Scheibel compared students buying textbooks to paying for heat during a Wisconsin winter.
“Even though they have to have it, they don’t want to buy it,” Scheibel said.
The New Face of Hunger:
Food Insecurity on College Campuses
By Rachel Marie DePalma
The concept of food insecurity is typically associated with the working poor, the homeless, the severely impoverished; however, recent economic hardships have turned the tables, and not for the better.
As of January 2014, 50% of recipients of Wisconsin’s food stamp program, FoodShare were 23 years old or younger – college students accounting for the vast majority of this number.
UW-Madison student Veronica Cox, currently a junior, has been enrolled on FoodShare for two years.
“I worked two jobs at the time that I enrolled, and I had just moved out of the dorms and into an apartment. I was concerned about meeting all of my financial responsibilities and still being able to eat,” Cox said.
Cox knew of the program’s existence because her older sister is enrolled in FoodShare. She was not aware that, as a college student, she could apply for food stamps until a friend of hers mentioned it.
“I was actually really surprised by how easy it was to get on the program. I applied, did a phone interview, and was enrolled in less than a week," Cox said.
FoodShare awards a maximum of 200 dollars to its participants. Cox receives just under that amount, which she uses fully every month.
“If I had to spend that much of my normal paycheck on food, I’d still have to be working two jobs.”
Cox uses a large portion of her given financial aid to pay rent, and her paychecks for living expenses, books, and school supplies.
According to Cox, being on the FoodShare program helps ease the stress of balancing school, tuition, and work.
“Knowing that at least my food expenses are taken care of is one less thing to stress about,” Cox said.
In order for college students to qualify for the FoodShare program, they must either be receiving federal work study aid, or working a minimum of twenty hours per week, in addition to being in school.
In 2001, 5.4% of all students aged 19-24 were on food stamp programs nationwide; by 2010, this figure increased to 12.6%, more than doubling in nine years.
“At UW, 6,400 students qualify for work study, and of these, 4,800 actually use the funds,” UW Payroll Officer Joan Sweeney said.
Sweeney says it is very simple for students to apply for the program. She sees a steady flow of students come into her office throughout the semester asking for work study proof to enroll in FoodShare.
“However, it is difficult to gauge an exact number of how many students are on the program due to how easy it is to enroll. The entire process can be done online,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney believes that even more UW students would be enrolled in the program if it were advertised more on campus.
“It’s such a crucial stage of life to be receiving adequate nutrition; during the ages of 18-22, you’re still growing, and college students need the nutrition even more due to the increased stress levels they experience,” Sweeney said.
“Even some farmer’s market vendors are now accepting FoodShare Benefits,” Sweeney said. “This is great for ensuring students receive proper nutrition.
For college students who are receiving food stamp benefits, acquiring proper nutrition is plausible. All grocery stores are required by law to accept food stamps; even several farmer’s market vendors now accept food stamps.
“Students cannot redeem food stamps for beer, cigarettes, or personal care products. You can purchase food only,” Sweeney said.
When it comes to determining eligibility for students, FoodShare is a “point in time” application, according to Sweeney.
“Students must re-apply for eligibility every six months,” Sweeney said.
“It’s simply a matter of being eligible at the time of application,” she adds.
The statewide FoodShare caseload increased from 200,000 to 400,000 since 2009. This double in participants could be owed to eligibility changes making more people qualified to be on the food stamp program.
However, there are many students on campus not eligible for the FoodShare program who still experience food insecurity.
Alexandra Schwartz is a student working to find a solution to end student hunger at UW-Madison. She plans on starting a chapter of the Campus Kitchens Project here on campus.
The Campus Kitchens Project is a national non-profit organization started about 15 years ago which serves the purpose of recovering unused food from dining halls and restaurants on college campuses to combat hunger in communities, particularly those in urban food deserts.
“Rather than being a food pantry, a Campus Kitchen prepares full meals using unused food that would otherwise have been thrown away,” Schwartz explained.
The target for the UW Madison chapter of the Campus Kitchens Project is the Madison community as a whole, but Schwartz that UW students will make good use of the program as well.
“Many college students do not eat enough complete, balanced meals. Campus Kitchens would bring the option of a full course, balanced meal to students,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz hopes to have the UW Madison chapter of Campus Kitchens up and running this fall 2014 semester, to provide hunger relief not just to UW students, but the community as a whole.
“Lots of planning is still needed, but the city of Madison is a great city to be bringing this organization to,” Schwartz adds. “The movement by students to have healthier, more conscious eating habits these past couple years have been leading up to it.”
Unique Ways to Pay
By Jasmine Sola
Today, the cost of college is more than just tuition. Rent, utilities, food, studying abroad and extracurricular activities are all on students’ minds when they think about finances. For many students, one job is not enough to cover costs. For some, two jobs does not cut it.
As the cost of college continues to rise, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found unique ways to pay for their higher education and everything that goes along with it. Some have donated parts of their body, others have sat for hours with a needle in their arm and still others have danced in nothing but their underwear to make ends meet.
Christie Olsen is an obstetrics and gynecology nurse practitioner and founder of Forward Fertility. Her business brings egg donors and surrogate mothers together with those who want a baby.
Olsen said many students donate eggs to help pay for college. Most women donating eggs are between the ages of 21 and 29, Olsen said.
“I have UW students in the database,” Olsen said. She has also worked with UW-Madison students at other fertility clinics in the past.
According to Olsen, compensation for eggs from an average, healthy woman is $4,500.
However, before a student can even consider the money, she must go through a long application process and be selected to donate. The process entails an initial screening, a full application over medical history, a phone interview, an examination of medical records, an in-person interview and a blood sample.
“The application process hinders people from donating,” Olsen said. “Only about three to four percent of people who contact about donation actually end up in the database.”
Lindsey Wilson, 21, considered egg donation to help pay for college but was immediately turned away due to a history of anxiety and depression. At the time, she was disappointed because the money from an egg donation would have improved her financial situation.
“It’s not for everyone, but it’s a good way to make money and help people,” Olsen said. Olsen stressed that egg donation is about much more than the money; it is a way to help members of the community.
“If you’re only going to do this for the money, it’s not for you,” Olsen said.
For many students, however, their financial situations are so dire, money is the only thing on their mind. Wilson, originally from Green Bay, Wis., decided to leave UW-Madison to work full-time and save for school.
Wilson’s parents are unable to pay for college and the costs associated with it. Wilson pays for her phone, food, rent, utilities and health insurance. Before leaving school last spring, she was paying her tuition as well.
In the spring of her freshman year, Wilson began donating plasma to make ends meet. She was already working more than 20 hours a week.
According to Wilson, the first time a person donates, he or she receives $40. From then on, the payment is based on weight, and a person can donate two days per week. Wilson usually made $20 the first day of the week she donated and $25 the second day. On average, Wilson made $45-50 a week by donating plasma.
“It’s great for groceries,” Wilson said. “But it’s inconvenient, I’ve sat there for over two hours.”
Wilson donated twice a week for almost a year and a half.
“Sometimes my arm would get sore and tender,” Wilson said. “I’d have to give it a break.” However, Wilson has not noticed any long-term effects.
She mentioned the plasma donation clinic draws an “interesting crowd,” but lots of students are donating as well.
“It’s an easy way to make money,” Wilson said. In the past, she considered selling illegal drugs to help pay for school, rent and food.
Wilson’s finances have improved, so she is no longer considering this option and no longer donates twice a week. She works full time at a local coffee shop.
“This momentary needle pain is for my future,” Wilson would tell herself while donating.
She hopes to return to UW-Madison this fall.
Much like Wilson, UW-Madison student Ben*, 22, found a unique way to help pay for college.
His way, however, was more active than donating plasma. Instead of sitting in a chair, Ben stood on a box and danced, in only his underwear.
“It forces you to get super nice underwear,” Ben said.
Ben, originally from Chicago, Ill., studied abroad in Freiburg, Germany his junior year. His sophomore year he began go-go dancing at FIVE nightclub, a gay dance club and bar in Madison, Wis., to make money for studying abroad.
His parents pay for tuition and rent, but Ben pays for his food and other activities.
“I had to prepare to go a whole year without a steady income,” Ben said about his choice to start dancing to pay for his expenses abroad.
His sophomore year, he also took a position as a program facilitator at the student organization Sex Out Loud. But hours were predetermined and money was limited; he knew the job would not make enough to cover the costs of money exchanges, traveling and going out while in Germany.
Ben decided to start dancing at FIVE nightclub to make extra money on the side. On an average night, he would make $60 dollars in cash from the bar and $30-40 in tips.
Sometimes, he would be handed tips, or a customer would put the money on the box, but many times customers would slip the money into his underwear.
“At first it was weird to be exposed,” Ben said. “But it was fun after awhile.”
Ben got to know the regulars and enjoyed himself. He worked every week until he got a job as a bar-back at one of Madison’s other gay clubs, Plan-B.
“It was the quickest, easiest way to make cash,” Ben said about dancing.
He told his mom he was dancing and when she responded negatively, he said he would keep doing it, or she would have to give him an allowance.
“That shut her up quick,” Ben said.
According to Ben, the biggest struggle dancers faced was competing for tips. There would usually be three or four dancers at a time.
“When I was dancing, I was the most popular,” Ben said.
Dancing also gave Ben a good incentive to go to the gym, and he still works out frequently.
“It helps to be pretty,” Ben added.
As Ben plans for his future after he graduates this spring, he is considering dancing again when he moves back to Chicago.
“Sex sells,” Ben said.
*Ben's name has been changed by request.
Money on Your Mind?
By Christopher Yue
Money-- something we always think about, but never talk about.
Knowledge of personal financial issues among college students is becoming increasingly relevant as student debt, college tuition and cost of living continue to rise.
However, it is difficult to get college students to talk about money.
On the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, previous efforts to raise awareness and offer support to students about their personal financial matters has had little success.
The Office of Student Financial Aid used to offer personal finance advising sessions supported by the Financial Occupations Club for University Students (FOCUS).
The president of FOCUS, Dustin Helmentine, said that the normally two-hour-long advising sessions would only see one to two students coming for advice.
"People won't come to it. They just won't be interested in giving up half an hour to an hour of their time to ask questions." Helmentine said.
Ultimately, the Office of Student Financial Aid stopped offering the service due to the lack of interest among students.
Students' unwillingness to talk about their personal finance issues is what personal finance professors deem the first and most difficult barrier to break in financial literacy education.
Robert McCalla, director of personal finance program, said money matters are not something people are very willing to share because they are considered deeply personal.
"There is more discussion about sex with teenagers and parents in most households than there is about money," McCalla said.
To address this issue, the Department of Consumer Science is offering a new course
for the fall 2014 semester -- financial life skills.
The perception of money being a taboo topic is the first thing McCalla wants to address before introducing students to useful personal financial concepts and practices.
"The challenge is that no one has figured out a good way to do it," McCalla said.
McCalla is designing a new course model, combining online interactive modules with weekly in-person “application sessions to conquer the challenges in teaching personal finance.
Three one-credit classes are targeting freshmen, seniors, and first-year graduate students separately with specific finance training that is relevant to them.
FOCUS is also planning more activities in the coming semesters to raise awareness including tailor-made presentations about personal finance to different students upon requests and to reopen the personal finance advising sessions.
According to Helmentine, the UW-Madison McNair Scholars Program, as well as the School of Veterinary Medicine, already have requested FOCUS to present to their students due to the lack of available resources on campus.
"Be aware of how you feel about money, and be aware of how you feel about spending money," McCalla advised.
Things as simple as starting to track your daily expenses would make a big difference.
At least a third of the people [in my previous classes] would say they have no idea how much money they are spending," McCalla said. "Just do a little spending tracking exercise. Just so you are aware."
Wondering about your own financial literacy level? Take the quiz here by FINRA Investor Education Foundation and compare your results with state and national average.