OPINION: Financial Aid Must Subsidize Studio And Lab Fees

Graphic by Elodie Arbogast

“We remain committed to meeting 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated financial need to ensure that Pitzer remains an affordable option for our families,” reads a brochure from Pitzer College’s Financial Aid office. While this is an admirable goal, the “100 percent” does not cover lab or studio fees for classes. Students unable to pay these fees on their own must take out loans to pay them or simply not take take courses that require extra fees, which severely limits their choices in a major.

According to the Pitzer’s course catalogue, lab and studio fees can easily be $50 or more for a single class. Students wanting to major in an art or STEM-related field will probably take at least one major-related course per semester, meaning that their total studio or lab fees could be several hundred dollars over the course of four years.

These costly fees contribute to segregating Pitzer into two tiers: those who can afford certain majors and those who can’t.

Institutions put individuals of lower socioeconomic standings in an inferior position when they restrict their access to education. These students are often forced to live with consequences of systematic failures that already discriminate against them.

Becca Zimmerman PZ ’21 and incoming Senate President-Elect Shivani Kavuluru ’19 are spearheading long overdue efforts to prevent these failings at Pitzer.

Zimmerman proposed the idea of creating a bill to subsidize STEM and art fees in late February after joining the Academic Standards committee of Pitzer Student Senate. Kavuluru later joined Zimmerman in developing and writing the bill.

“Although students may be able to afford to enroll in one or two of the courses, the additional fees accompanying the majority of classes in STEM or arts fields discourage students from pursuing a major in such fields,” Zimmerman said. “This reinforces a cycle in which socioeconomic and sociocultural characteristics directly or subconsciously influence and constrain the career and educational opportunities made available to certain students.”

Other colleges in the consortium already prevent this division by covering studio and lab fees. Pomona College’s 2018-2019 financial aid handbook states, “if you are taking a Pomona College P.E. course or other academic courses through one of the other Claremont Colleges … that have an additional fee associated with the course, that is charged to your student account, financial aid scholarship will be provided to cover the cost of the fee.”

To this end, Kavuluru aims to help Zimmerman with the logistics of writing the bill, while relating this bill to past community discussions.

Kavuluru detailed a meeting from last year between Marco Antonio Cruz, the director of institutional research and academic assessment, and the student body. She recalled that many students complained about the fees that deter low-income and financial aid students from taking STEM and art classes.

“I think for a long time the student body has been pretty vocal about the fact that lab and studio fees are really expensive, and by virtue of that, they’re not as accessible to everyone,” Kavuluru said. “That is something to be mindful of, and I think that, if we can, we should definitely try to write bills like this [that support students in ways that the institution currently does not].”

The bill is currently in the making and has not been proposed to the Pitzer Student Senate yet. However, if the bill was to pass, it would be a mark of solidarity between students: that all students at Pitzer are important and valuable.

Through this bill, Zimmerman and Kavuluru hope to force an end to the ways by which Pitzer forces people of certain socioeconomic standings to be repeatedly barred from privileges that other members of the community have access to. There are still many barriers left to demolish and many gaps left to fill. However, this bill marks an important first step.

It is time that not only Pitzer, but all academic institutions start supporting their students to achieve their academic success. Starting with the 5Cs, institutions need to eliminate the unjust educational gaps and support all students, not just the ones that can afford it.

Sophie Samiee is from Portland, OR and is a first year at Pitzer College. She has nine siblings and some of her favorite activities include throwing pottery, solving crosswords, and making kombucha.

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