Americans are well aware of the growing student debt among college students. Usually, the first thing people point out to explain this is that the cost of universities has risen dramatically for our generation. However, there are many other factors that contribute to the mass debt that has become a simple fact of life for the vast majority of college students today. In 1980, a year of college cost around $3,400. Today, the average is $23,000 — for the same amount of time. It's true, the economy's undergone many changes since then. But our financial aid programs haven't kept up with the times.
One of the most common ways to get scholarships nowadays is the FAFSA, which has 110 questions and must be submitted every year for students to qualify. All financial aid programs like this are based on the student's family income. Sounds fair, right? Unfortunately, these calculations can be extremely unproductive. The FAFSA counts saved money just as much as the last year's income — so if you're saving up to pay for college like a responsible student, but you save too much — well, there go your scholarships. Saving more than the government thinks you should isn't something that should make college more expensive for you, but this is what happens with colleges today.
So, for example, if your brother saves $1000 during the summer to help pay for textbooks, he'll get fewer grants and loans than your sister, who only needs $400 for the semester. Both students rely on the same parental income, but they receive vastly different financial aid packages. In this way, a well-meaning family member might give money to a student for their college expenses — but immediately make them less eligible for financial aid once the money's in the bank. This doesn't mean that we should stop taking any income into account — the system is supposed to give first priority to lower-income students, because they do need more help than families with higher incomes.
What should be taken into account, though, is that students need to save money. They need it for college expenses like food and rent, and eventually things like retirement or buying a house. We shouldn't be penalized for trying to be financially responsible. A system that refuses financial aid because of a student's personal savings isn't fair to anyone.