An article in today's New York Times, "For Children of Same Sex Couples A Student Aid Maze" talks about financial aid both for children of same sex couples and for gay/lesbian kids disowned when they come out, in spite of the title referring only to the former. Since my kids are children of same sex couples and I was disowned when I came out during college, I read it with interest.
Most of the article is devoted to the deficiencies in the FAFSA - the main federal form used for financial aid - which allows for only one mother and one father. The article also, however, profiles a gay student at Harvard whose parents cut him off when he told them during his sophomore year that he would not be able to change his sexual orientation. That brought back memories! My parents also cut me off when I came out to them, many years ago. They were willing to continue to support me only if I went into therapy geared at making me straight and left the university I was at, coming home and commuting to a local junior college. That the junior college they chose to aid me in curing me of my lesbianism was Hartford College for Women speaks volumes about their naivete.
But it was a naive time in some ways. It certainly wasn't as clear as it is now that sexual orientation is not subject to change through psychotherapy. My father, who was a psychiatrist, told me his main objection was that his practice would be ruined if it got out that he had a lesbian daughter. We were on the cusp of change, though, in the mid-1970s. Just a few years later it would have been detrimental to his practice if it had been widely known that he'd disowned a lesbian daughter.
The Harvard student in the article ends up getting some financial aid, some loans, and works part time. I got no financial aid but was able to graduate without loans. That was possible then and there. I was at McGill University in Montreal and university education was highly subsidized by the provincial government. It doesn't mean it was easy, but it was possible. I worked 15-20 hours a week at a minimum wage job during the school year and worked 50-60 hours a week during the almost four months we had off in the summer. And lived very, very frugally. It wasn't an easy way to go to college and it's not what I'd want for my own kids, whom I have helped/will help to the best of my ability.
Looking back, I remember figuring out how to manage by working. I considered taking time off to work full time but didn't want to do that unless necessary. I don't think it occurred to me to ask for loans or financial aid. My family was well able to pay; they just chose not to. I thought aid and student loans were for families who couldn't afford to pay.
I worked for a year between college and grad school. I made $10,000 that year and saved $4000. When I applied to grad school (in library science), in order to not have my parents' assets and income considered I needed to prove that I was emancipated. A lot of students I knew who considered themselves independent felt the rules at the time were too harsh. You had to prove that you'd received less than $500 in gifts or money or loans from your parents each year for the past 3 years and that you had not spent more than 2 weeks in their home each year, again for three years. Many students who really were fairly financially independent still got help from their parents in the form of a place to stay while they worked in the summer, an old car, gifts of furniture or household items or money, etc. that made them not emancipated in that sense. Needless to say, it was no problem for me. I got financial aid and also took out $3000 in student loans. I paid it back at the rate of $45 a month for the next 7 years, which was an easy bill to pay even on a librarian's salary.
Here and now I think it's pretty much impossible for kids to put themselves through school without loans, financial aid, or parental help unless they're going to school part time and working full time. I feel very lucky that, difficult as it was, that I was able to graduate from college with no debt and from grad school with minimal debt.