Aug 28th, 2022, 08:00 AM

Does AUP Privilege the Most Privileged?

By Jacob Shropshire
How AUP's culture prioritizes privileged students the most

As a private university located in one of the world’s most expensive cities, an education at AUP can already be exclusive. When you factor in a status-obsessed student body and an unhelpful administration, living up to the expectations of an education at AUP can be an economic burden for some students.

Randy Vener, Deputy Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, said that their recent statistics for the 2020-2021 school year indicate that 4.8 million Euros in financial aid was awarded to students. Just over 51% of students receive some form of financial aid or scholarship money, but AUP rarely funds full rides to the university.

Less than 20 students have more than 50% of their tuition covered. Vener said that financial need is a major factor in financial aid and scholarship awards, but academic merits and "global explorer" status are also considered. What global explorer status and other AUP specific admissions standards mentioned by Vener meant were vague.

"We have a certain way of identifying that, and it's somewhat quantitative, somewhat qualitative," said Vener, "It's a little bit of secret stuff that we do behind the scenes, I think it works very well."

But regardless of the amount financial aid that is handed out, students don't feel like financial equity is a priority.

According to Emma Kelly, a sophomore at AUP, many students at AUP who receive need-based financial aid don't receive it from AUP. "A friend of mine, he gets a massive amount of financial aid, but it's because of the... system that he was with beforehand [growing] up," said Kelly. She also said that he receives a scholarship worth €1,000 per semester, "Which if you think about it in the grand scheme of things, that's not going to do jack shit."

 

The university - which unlike most universities in Europe that offer free tuition to EU students - has a tuition of around €32,000 a year for the 2021-2022 academic year. Tuition does not include housing costs, which adds up in the city of lights. Paris was named the world’s most expensive city in 2020, and AUP’s culture evidently embraces this title. 

Kelly said that during the Fall 2020 semester, she lived in an AUP-sponsored housing arrangement that was only a ten minute walk from both the Grenelle building and from the Combes building. But she said that the housing site didn’t provide any ways for students to cook food for themselves. “We had to buy all of our meals. That's money that's coming out of your own pocket that's not going towards AUP, which is, in my opinion, ridiculous.”

Students have also expressed dissatisfaction with a lack of AUP-sponsored housing options that meet their budget. Specifically for incoming students, there is no exception for those who need cheaper housing options than what the university offers.

The AUP Residential Life Office did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked about whether or not the high cost of living affected the economic makeup of students who apply to AUP, Vener said, "Well, yes. I'm not going to dance around that. I would love it to be different."

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AUP admissions boasts their financial aid and scholarship opportunities as a substantial way to combat the high price tag. Amid desire for increased aid, some of the 50 percent of students who receive financial aid from the school rarely discuss it. According to AUP senior Sarah Salama, students keep quiet about their scholarship money for fear of judgement. 

“People really care about their image at this school,” said Salama. “Especially Europeans, because in America, for us loans are normal, but in Europe it's kind of looked down upon.”

Masking university financial assistance for their education is not the only way students attempt to promote their wealth. Many students wear designer clothes and accessories priced at thousands of dollars a piece. The Goyard bag has become a status symbol and form of social currency on campus, far surpassing the expected scholarship brags that most other college students strive towards. 

Salama also said that students with money may not take their studies as seriously as others. 

“Some people went to boarding schools their whole life that were more expensive than AUP, for them it's not a big deal in the same way it is for people at public school.” Salama said. 

Students discussed blatant examples of professors and administration exercising leniency towards privileged students that differed from others. Legitimate requests for assistance or resources from the school are often ignored, while presumably wealthier students are afforded academic privileges with no expressed reason. 

One AUP student who wished to remain anonymous said, “I was raped outside of AUP [and] I went to the school guidance counselor and had to talk about it to try and find some resources. I asked if I potentially needed to go home, to take care of myself and my mental health if I could do classes online.”

The student said that she was told for policy reasons that she wouldn’t be allowed to attend classes online.  “But I know… that someone else who has money, who was wealthy, very wealthy, was able to do classes online because they wanted to,” she said. She said the other student was able to return to their home and participate in leisure activities during this time. 

Even amidst calls for equity, a campus culture that privileges the wealthy stands in the way of actionable administrative changes. 

“Rich kids are held to a different standard, and the administration just ignores it because they need their parents to make donations," Salama said.  

This article was co-written by Claire Moberg, a visiting student from George Washington University.