The $64,775 Elephant in the Room

Writing Irish | Erin Aucar | February 11, 2016

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$64,775 – that is the price for attending Notre Dame during the 2015-2016 school year.

“Well, I pay over 60k a year! I can do whatever the heck I want!” or so most Notre Dame students have claimed or overheard at some point in their time on campus.

Is this truly what Notre Dame students think? What does such a mindset ultimately justify? Is it a valid claim?

Money is no doubt a touchy subject at a school like Notre Dame. Whether you’re receiving financial aid or not, the sticker price for the “Notre Dame experience” is an elephant in the room. Tuition can attract or discourage students from attending solely based on socioeconomic factors. What we wondered was whether or not people actually believed it when they said, “I pay over 60k a year! I can do whatever the heck I want!”, or if it was just a poor attempt to joke about the hefty price. Moreover, does the financial aid status or lack thereof affect the perceived rights and status of students in the Notre Dame community?

I conducted a limited, anonymous survey and posted it to a few of the class Facebook pages to gauge how much students identified with these questions. For the most part, results indicated that students don’t genuinely believe such a statement – at least not philosophically. And yet, it seems that people do use this justification to steal a decent amount of excess food and silverware from the dining hall. I can personally admit that I have the same bowl I stole freshman year sitting on my dresser. I also may or may not be using a tray to dry my snow boots at this very moment.

Either way, according to the survey, students admitted to having heard or identified with this justification. Sure. They don’t think it’s valid, though. Instead, many respondents made sure to mention how much they valued their education. Rather, that we have a certain responsibility because of what we are paying. Overall, only 27% of respondents said that they never think about the price of Notre Dame, which seems to indicate that for better or for worse, the price becomes a factor in how we conduct ourselves on campus.

A few dining hall spoons aside though, what does the weight of Notre Dame’s price tag have on how we perceive our place in the community? Important comments were made in the survey, and luckily the most common sentiment was along the same lines of the student who felt that “everyone got here by working hard; it doesn’t matter who can pay full tuition and who needs a little help.”

Nevertheless, there was some disparity of sentiments. There were those who do not receive financial aid, some of whom have noted, “while I love ND it makes me a little less sure that the university is invested in me,” and others who try not to feel entitled but still wish that aid was granted based on merit instead of need. On the other hand, we have the students who do receive financial aid. Some of these students felt that financial aid was not a reflection of their worth on campus, while others felt intimidated, as though they couldn’t contribute to certain conversations. Some even had the extra guilt that prompted them to spend Friday nights in the library since they are lucky to have that aid and feel pressure to spend it studying.

One student made the valid point that in many ways, tuition aside, money itself is a big part of “THE Notre Dame experience.” For instance, if you can’t drop $2,000 on spring break, you’ll have to resign yourself to watching your news feed flood with pictures from all your friends who went to Punta Cana, while you’re sitting by your grandpa’s pool in Georgia. Though most students understand how valuable their Notre Dame education is, with or without dependence on aid, money still factors into the experiences of Chicago day trips, cabs to Finni’s, football tickets, and so on.

There may not be a clear consensus on the influence of money on this campus, or the role of students in its influence. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that the Notre Dame experience is different for every single student, precisely because of the money. No matter how you look at it, Notre Dame has an inherent value beyond the price tag, but taking it for granted is a guaranteed way to come up short.