Thirty students stood in the quad on December 19 to rally against the claim that Webster neglects to help low-income students.
Sophomore John Wallis created a Facebook event called “Let’s Fix Webster” after he heard that many of his friends considered not returning to Webster this spring due to financial issues.
Wallis’s friend, sophomore Jeremiah Palko, almost didn’t return to school for the spring 2019 semester. Palko said he and his mother live paycheck to paycheck. The university wouldn’t lift a hold on his account, Palko said.
Palko said his struggles brought him to an extreme low.
“I genuinely wanted to kill myself because I was like, ‘no one cares,’” Palko said. “Honestly, college gives me a place to be myself and it gives me freedom to explore my own individuality. If I’m not here, I’m not happy.”
Palko said he went to the financial aid office multiple times but received no help. He tried outside loans as well, but failed to find a co-signer with a high enough credit score.
Patrick Giblin, director of public relations at Webster, said administration heard the voice of the students and Palko.
Giblin provided The Journal with a statement from administration:
“As individual student issues become known, Webster University’s policy is to talk directly to the students in a confidential manner and review options that work best for that student. The university does not discuss these issues in public form such as social media.”
Palko said a faculty member in the office of the registrar contacted him after the rally. Palko and his mother are to pay $500 by the end of January so that Palko can study during the spring semester, Palko said.
Palko said he still worries about money despite the new aid from the university.
“We’re going to make it happen, but it’s going to take some working around,” Palko said. “That’s grocery money… I’m thankful they’re giving us a chance, but I need more help than that.”
Wallis said he organized the rally because he thought Webster needed to do more to help low-income and first-generation college students.
“The problem is that I don’t think students know the forms of financial aid that are available to them,” Wallis said. “I think the university needs to show that there are other forms of financial aid available to work for low-income students, to have programs that show them how to apply for more financial aid.”
Wallis’s Facebook group reached over 100 users. Multiple Webster students commented on how either they or a friend had to drop out due to financial struggles.
Rally attendees stood outside the University Center calling for a student member on the board of trustees and for Webster to emulate other private universities to make it more affordable.
Wallis said financial aid is harder to come by after a student’s freshman year.
“When you come to Webster as a freshmen from a low-income family, Webster welcomes you with open arms,” Wallis said. “But as soon as you walk out the door in May of your first year, they’re going to push you away and they’re not going to give you the money you need.”
Justine Ruble used to live on campus until her financial aid dropped.
Ruble’s mother worked at Webster during her freshman year in 2017. As a result, Ruble had tuition remission as well as a grant to cover her housing costs. However, the university revoked the grant without telling her, Ruble said.
Ruble owed the university $6,500 and cried in the office of a financial aid faculty member, she said.
The university advised her to take out another loan.
“I felt like they didn’t give a (expletive) about me,” Ruble said. “I was asking for help, either how I could stay there or how I could get an education somewhere else, but no one wanted to help me.”
Ruble transferred to Jefferson College for two semesters. Palko said he wants to stay at Webster. He’d be the first of his family to have a college degree. Wallis is a first-generation college student as well.
“If we want to propel these students from poverty or from the low socioeconomic status that they’ve lived in because their parents weren’t able to go to college. We should be doing everything we can to help them,” Wallis said.