From summer camps to volunteering to internships, many disregard an actual “break” during the summer. Especially in high school, students are constantly looking for more achievements to add to their college applications. Many look into elite summer programs that may further their academic progress. However, these summer programs are not available to all students — many summer institutions require astronomically high tuitions, which favors students of high-income households.
Adults are generally paid for working. In contrast, many high school students must pay to work through internship opportunities. Although these internships give students quality working experience, participation in such internships can cost $2,000 or more, putting them out of reach for low-income students.
Palo Alto’s service-learning organization, Get Involved Palo Alto, provides students with the chance to enroll in a month-long research internship that ends with a celebratory showcase to present their findings.
Last year, Get Involved Palo Alto gave students the opportunity to conduct surveys and analyze data for Project Safety Net, a mental health organization that stresses the importance and relevance of mental illness in our community. Although this institution offers great opportunities and reaches many Bay Area residents, the internships cost about $2,290 per student, which could amount to one or two months of rent for some underprivileged families. In this way, such internships seem to strongly favor wealthy families who can afford the hefty prices.
“I think the price is too high,” said junior Hua Zheng. “It is understandable because the program just started, but I think they should lower the price a bit so more people will sign up.”
Although the Palo Alto School Unified District offers its own summer school, its resources are still not comparable to those of established universities. Programs like California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) offer math and science courses that are taught by University of California, Berkeley faculty and researchers. According to the COSMOS website, students enrolled in the program participate in hands-on labs, field activities, lectures and discussions. Again, this greater resource comes at an additional cost. The tuition for COSMOS is $3,570 for California residents and $6,000 for non-California residents, which again favors the privileged.
“COSMOS has a very good reputation because from what I’ve heard it actually provides students great experiences,” said sophomore Annie Tsui. “It would be perfect if the price can be lowered a tiny bit.”
The apparent solution for families unable to afford the expense is to apply for financial aid. Numerous summer programs indicate that a student’s acceptance is not affected by whether or not they apply for financial aid. This statement acts as a soothing charm to the many students who are paranoid by the fact that only a small percentage of them will be granted financial aid.
In this way, financial aid is a largely flawed system. Most students from low-income families are more likely to have less impressive academic achievement records than students from wealthy families. However, financial aid is offered to financially-disadvantaged academic superstars exclusively. An application for financial aid usually indicates a weak financial background. There is a tremendous achievement gap between low-income and high-income, so it is unfair to judge students without looking at their socioeconomic background, along with other aspects of their application.
Summer programs should start lowering tuitions or increasing the amount of financial aid given to low-income students. The caveat is that camps need student tuition each year to continue running. The best way to offer quality local summer programs to all students in Palo Alto is for the city to use its own resources. Our city has the financial ability to offer inexpensive and high-quality summer education as opposed to just offering the few courses at our summer school program. For example, Paly now has a whole row of empty science buildings during summer break that could all be effectively utilized for students to gain more laboratory experience.
Do not let the achievement gap continue to widen over the summer.