You gotta wonder what the hugs are for.
John Sexton stands there at the podium in this insanely lavish theater on the first day of my first year at the school I won't be able to afford a year later. He articulates his rags-to-unfathomable-riches story in a cookie-cutter Brooklyn accent, after a maybe too grand entrance consisting of blaring bagpipes and school flag bearers, while you sit there between people from countries you've never been but harbor in you some world-beating optimism to visit. And as you both exist in this theater in this city, a realization flutters past you as you sit dazzled in naïveté. This is his pitch, and you can't help but buy in.
He's perceptible on that stage, amongst the gold and more gold of the Beacon Theater, yet he is unobtainable. Unreachable. He is perched there between these giant statues, gilded old-money relics of bygone civilizations, fallen to revolt and new ideas. To disinterest and discontent. And perhaps he recognizes this, so he does what any president of an increasingly detestable institution with increasingly detestable tuition rates would do: he offers hugs. Hey kid, I know you can't afford my school, what with those multiple car payments, high health insurance costs, one working parent and a brother set to begin college.
So how about a hug?
So as I sat with my parents looking at the bill of the school I worked years on end to attend and now couldn't afford, I had to wonder, who has my back? Who is looking out for me? Who the hell wants me here? It certainly isn't the administers of financial aid, who found it reasonable to offer a scholarship less than a seventh of the tuition while suggesting my family take out a loan for which we wouldn't even be approved. Who, then? Most glaringly, it is not my school president. It is not the man hellbent on expanding his institution at the expense of educational affluence and affordability. It is not the man who stood there with me in Washington Square Park on a spring night, insisting that the school I would withdraw from four months later had my best interests in mind, that it was looking out for me.
Most definitely, it is not the man who welcomed thousands of my peers and me to his business in that lavish theater twelve months earlier.
When you raise your children to truly be all they want to be, to choose the best learning environment, to work hard and do well so they will be accepted into the best college, you expect some help. I mean that's what they do, right? Don't colleges want the smartest and most talented student body? Sure, we have sadly learned, they do. If we can pay. And pay.
We were happily lured by the NYU environment, dazzled with our college tour, thrilled with the area, the history, the artistic community at Tisch. We visited the campus on a sunny, brisk day in October. The purple flags bounced and bounded in the wind. Students sat with their Macs, walked with purpose, were just like Cole. We toured libraries and a residence hall that was bright and light and modern. We toured the Film School and were thrilled with it. It was like heaven.
What we didn't realize at the time was that NYU puts the burden of high tuition heavily on parents. Although NYU says they provide an average need-based grant of $19,000 to students yearly, we were offered much less. What we learned is that there seems to be no realistic formula for calculating need-based help at NYU. We were expected to pay tuition that was 70 percent of our income before taxes, which is mind-boggling. After we received his stunningly low financial aid package we decided to commit a substantial amount of our resources to cover his tuition. There was no way we were going to deny our son the opportunity to study at one of the top film schools in the world. Once they met him, we figured, he'd be offered more.
This isn't about Midwestern parents whining about not getting a handout for their son to go to college. This is about asking for reasonable financial help for a bright student and being shut out. A student with the past educational rigors like Cole has should be awarded a realistic grant. No matter how we asked, begged, pleaded, NYU could not give us $10,000 more a year, which would still be less than what they say is their average grant. It would still have meant loans, but ones we could deal with. Ones that Cole could afford after graduation. Regardless of his grades freshmen year and the support from his professors, NYU not only refused to help with is tuition, they raised it by $10,000. Cole withdrew from the school last week.
None of this made sense until we learned of the rift between the faculty and administration, of the staggering no-confidence vote regarding President Sexton's policies and plans. We feel cheated. All that money being raised from all that tuition, spent on summer homes, low interest, personal loans and not even ten thousand more for my son's tuition. Had we known about the way Sexton is attracting and enticing the very best faculty, while ignoring the basic needs of his students, we would have not sent Cole to NYU.
Likewise, had we been aware of Sexton's plans of branding and building a worldwide, money-making machine on the backs and futures of young people, Cole would not have applied. But we were not privy to the truth and now our talented-valedictorian-IB diploma- student council president son is nineteen-years-old and without a college. We are in debt to a school that practices a scary form of deceit. NYU's Board of Trustees has faith in President Sexton because he has built a business out of learning, a corporation of sorts out of the starry-eyed passion and dreams of the young. What a shame. If NYU continues this sorry state of shutting out students who can't afford their full tuition, they will end up with not much of a diverse student body. Then again, perhaps that's the point.