After emptying his bank account on one year of college tuition, Freshman Calvin Fulton joined OU to bring attention to future students’ money troubles. 

When Ohio University’s Board of Trustees approved guaranteed tuition in January, Calvin Fulton’s first thought went to his 16-year-old brother Tommy, who had started thinking about college and considered Ohio University an option.

Guaranteed tuition, or the Ohio Guarantee, will be a four-year flat rate tuition all incoming students will pay, starting in the 2015-16 academic year. That year’s freshmen will pay $11,548 in tuition for four years at OU.

“It’s going to be way (more expensive) for him to come here than it is for me,” Fulton said. “It’s much less of a good deal now. It’s a little frustrating.”

Fulton is wrapping up his first year at OU and is preparing to declare a major in plant biology, but he’s already thinking of the money he and his family will spend for his education in the remaining three years.

{{tncms-asset app="editorial" id="1f118996-dca6-11e4-ab98-831afbaae7ee"}}

His mother helped him this year, paying off most of his tuition costs while he covered other expenses, such as housing and a meal plan. But Fulton has two younger siblings who both hope to go to college, and his mom supports them all on her income alone.

Fulton said he knows he will have debt after graduation even as an in-state student, but he’s trying to keep the amount as low as possible.

His goal is to keep his debt below $20,000 by the time he graduates, but he’s not sure that will be possible.

“I’m going to work and I’m going to make it as little as possible, but I know that I’m going to be in debt by the time I get out of here,” Fulton said.

With his family’s financial burden always at the back of his mind, Fulton started to develop a liberal political perspective in high school, and joined OU’s Student Union during his first semester to protest the cost of higher education.

{{tncms-asset app="editorial" id="4635b0a6-dca6-11e4-82db-6ff646fe2584"}}

“To me, the fact that I have to pay all this money just to start my life seems a little bit unjust,” Fulton said.

As the oldest brother in a three-child family, Fulton said he knows his mom, who helped foot the tuition bill this year, will have to also support his siblings through college. Fulton was able to get a $3,000 scholarship and pay $4,000 per semester from his own savings.

Fulton did not intend to a job while taking classes at OU. He wanted to earn good grades, and he thought having a job would require some of his attention.

“I already have a hard time focusing on school in general, so I needed to devote my energy to that,” Fulton said.

However, after spending his savings in one year, Fulton said he expects to, at minimum, resume his job over the summer, and probably look for a job on campus when classes start in the fall.

“There’s not a whole lot I can do,” Fulton said. “If I’m working a minimum-wage job in the summer or on campus or both, and I’m paying back everything I can, but there’s still parts that are uncovered. There’s not much else you can do but saddle up and accept it.”

Fulton is no stranger to hard work.

When his mother got a divorce, Fulton, who was 12 at the time, began to help where he could, by babysitting his siblings and helping her in the kitchen.

{{tncms-asset app="editorial" id="65e8f35a-dca0-11e4-aac2-0f9ac8e4ba0c"}}

Through her job as a pharmaceutical sales representative, his mother was always able to ensure he and his two siblings had enough to eat. But she could be called to work at a hospital with no warning, so Fulton often dropped what he was doing to babysit his siblings.

“To do this, she’s been the hardest working person that I’ve ever known or that I ever will know honestly, and I have incredible respect for her,” Fulton said.

He does not consider himself to be struggling financially, but Fulton said he has to keep an eye on how much debt he incurs each semester.

Fulton has ruled out any thought of studying abroad in France, though he’s fascinated by the culture and would love to polish his language skills.

“It’d be like taking a vacation almost, without any money to do that,” Fulton said “How can you say this is okay when you don’t even have money to pay for your basic education?”

But Fulton sees himself remaining a Student Union member during his three remaining years at OU.

His mother votes conservatively at the polls, but Fulton said she supports his protests against tuition increases, when they’ve discussed the topic when he comes home to Centerville• over breaks.

“She’s started to realize that, hey, maybe we should reconsider what we think is good and what’s OK,” Fulton said.