"Wait," I said to a college admissions representative over the phone. "So you are saying I'm going to pay double!?" I was met with a haughty yes and a circular explanation. "But I told you, my mother and I are the only ones who are paying for college," I said. "I thought I made that abundantly clear." Again, I was greeted with a snooty response explaining how there were rules and policies for these sorts of things and that they were doing the best they could. I sat shocked at the irrational insensitivty.
While a large portion of students whose parents live together do not have to worry about the intricacies of financial aid in a separated world, a growing percentage of Americans struggle with a system that discriminates against those already disadvantaged. Growing up without a mother or a father directly involved in your life has widely recognized psychological effects on children. And with over one million children's parents getting divorced in the U.S. every year, the collegiate struggle described above is far from unique to me.
At the beginning of the college search, much like everyone else, I had no idea what I was diving into. One year later, with the picture slowly focusing, I have evaluated my experience and found some glaring problems with divorce discrimination in this age of political change and activism.
At many schools, in order to receive financial aid you must submit both parents' tax information regardless of divorce, a policy that makes perfect sense. While some families are divorced, the non-custodial parent still plays a large, at least, financial role in their child's life. However, for many children who are victim to a less pleasant divorce, this is not the case. Here, the waters turn dark and murky.
To get a non-custodial parent's information waived, there is a complex form appropriately titled the Non-Custodial Parent Waiver. Not only does this form require that the custodial parent denounce their former mate (an easier job for some than others), but it requires the child to enumerate and relive the rocky, or sometimes terrifying, relationship they have had with their absentee dad or mom. On a legal level this makes sense - in order to prove something, you must offer evidence - but the financial aid department is a far cry from a court room.
Proving this fact is harder than just writing a letter. A complete waiver includes psychological evaluation, numerous phone calls to financial aid officers that do not comprehend divorce, even more difficult phone calls to the absent parent and the radical realization that you are essentially disowning your mother or father. Going through that trauma only gets you as far as a review.
The real problem with this whole system is not the forms, the hours on the phone, or even the difficult conservations, because with everything in life, you have to fight for what is right. The real problem is the fundamental disconnect between families who have gone through divorce and those who have not. In the collegiate system, the financial aid department treats these drastically difficulty realities identically.
Since the 1950s, society has tossed out the absurdity of "Duck and Cover" and the disgusting practices of Jim Crow, it is now time for the United States to recognize the end of the picture perfect nuclear family. The financial aid departments across the country need to understand that just because a parent is biologically related it does not mean they are an intricate part of your life.
Many schools defend their policy through insinuating that they are keeping people from "cheating" the system, but the notion that parents will go around getting divorced just to "reap the benefits" of reduced college tuition is absurd. Colleges should consider divorced parents as different entities and evaluate the non-custodial parent relationship with delicacy, sensitivity and tact. A more careful assessment of the non-custodial parent's finances should always come before forcing children to relive pain.
In the end one school accepted the waiver and another rejected it despite the same information, a contradiction that calls to question whether some schools take the hardships of divorce more seriously or only consider the impact on their pocketbooks. But regardless of either school's decision, the scars of this ordeal will live with me forever.
Lucas Alvarado-Farrar. Lucas is half Honduran and half American, but all Mexican. He is a New York native and naturally a fan of the Bronx Bombers. Lucas is a senior in CAP, plays soccer and runs track, and likes pretty much any sports activity. He is fond ... More »