ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
College is expensive. And at the University of Michigan, the student government tried to help by publishing a guide for cost-effective living at the school. Some of the suggestions were not helpful.
GRIFFIN ST ONGE: You know, do you have a gardener that takes care of your house? Do you have a laundry service? Do you get your hair done every week? Do you get your nails done every week? These are things you can cut out of your life. Yeah, I'm going to go cut out my lawn service that I don't have already.
SHAPIRO: That's Michigan junior Griffin St. Onge, who decided with her friend to take matters into her own hands. They published an online guide that anybody can edit. It's now grown to 80 pages, and it's called "Being Not-Rich At UM."
ST ONGE: I didn't really realize the culture of Michigan before coming here. I had been warned about it a little bit, but I had never met the kind of wealth that some of the students have here by the time that I came to university. So I remember my freshman orientation. They do this mandatory presentation, and it's about like 45 minutes. They go pretty in-depth about work-study opportunities and scholarships and loans and things like that. And I had been like trying to make friends a little bit earlier. I met this girl out of state. We were sitting and watching this presentation together.
And I was sitting there starting to get a little worried. Like, you know, this is such a big financial decision. My parents are helping the best they can. I've got scholarships and loans and a job and things like that. And this girl this turns to me and is like, gosh, I'm so bored. Like my mom is going to pay for this anyway. I don't even need to be here. So that was kind of where I first realized like, oh, my gosh, you know, like this is a really different culture than what I'm accustomed to. And like some people here don't struggle with the same things that I struggle with.
SHAPIRO: So what made you realize that you could actually help your fellow students by working with your friends to write something like this that would be widely available, shareable? People could collectively edit it. What made you decide to take that plunge?
ST ONGE: So my friend Lauren Schandevel came up with the idea. In the couple of days surrounding that guide, it was kind of becoming a joke but also kind of becoming, you know, a serious conversation of like what this university looks like and how the student conversation of affordability kind of takes place. And she came up with the idea to start her own guide. So she kind of wrote this like skeletal 10 to 15 phrases of like a table of contents. And then I heard about it pretty immediately and thought it was just such a great idea and that, you know, as a junior in college, I had a lot of really useful information about, you know, work-study and scholarships and things like that. So I really wanted to contribute.
SHAPIRO: Obviously, there's useful information in this guide. Is there more to it than that - something about people being able to speak openly about things that in the past might have caused them shame, that they might not have felt comfortable talking about?
ST ONGE: So there's a lot of just like lists of like resources that the university already had. But then the structure of it has also been great because it's been a very trustworthy resource for people to talk candidly about their own experiences, I think. You know, they can say like, this job was really helpful to me, or this place sells, you know, day-old bread that's really cheap and things like that. There was also just a lot of great sections about like making friends because at times it can be hard when you're meeting like a lot of really wealthy students. And they go to vacation in Europe for spring break and things like that. And you want to like do things with them, but they want to eat out all the time. And like how do you navigate that? And we have a great section where it's just kind of like, you know, you're not alone. You know, you can be frank about the things that you're able to do and the things that you're not able to do.
SHAPIRO: Why do you think it's been so hard up until now to have this conversation about the economic divide among students?
ST ONGE: The University of Michigan, in particular, does have resources for low-income students. But it's just so hard to market to students when they're coming from environments where if you were working a part-time job and taking care of your siblings instead of being captain of the swim team, how does that affect your application? There's a lot of really pressing issues on campus where the marginalization is very visible. Class can be less visible. So in particular with class, it's good to have that guide, I think, because, you know, students can independently go and like comment resources they know, regardless of what the definition they think of their socioeconomic status is. If they know something helpful, they can talk about it. And then from there, you know, we were able to kind of have a space for students to, you know, work together and talk about these issues and then also implement the things that they think should be implemented.
SHAPIRO: Griffin St. Onge, thanks so much for talking with us.
ST ONGE: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
SHAPIRO: She's a junior at University of Michigan. And she's one of the publishers of the new guide "Being Not-Rich At UM."
(SOUNDBITE OF EL MICHELS AFFAIR'S "C.R.E.A.M.")