I am afraid that quality low cost reels are already being made in China and Korea.
Here is the problem, unless you have a well equipped shop the low cost/high quality will be hard to achieve. If you have to do everything on a lathe and milling machine one at a time you can't produce enough product to make it profitable. If you buy CNC equipment then your cost per unit goes up to pay for the machinery. Even if you could produce a quality low cost product in volume you are then faced with advertising and promoting the product. I just don't see it happening for a college student.
When it comes to custom reels low cost is relative. Can you make a better reel than Abel's Creek or Trout model. They run in the $250 to $300 range with top notch quality. The Galvan OB is in that same range with equal quality. So if you can't compete with these then how about something cheaper.
If you drop down a hundred bucks in price then you are competing with Orvis and Cabelas. If you make $100 reels then you competing with Redington and the low end of Cabelas and your cost/profit goes to heck.
To answer you question, if you could make a low cost quality custom reel would we buy it. I think some would but I don't thing the quantity sold would help you through school. The unknown here is your ability to make the reels your self and how much you would have to charge. With a low cost reel you are competing with China and Korea. With the higher cost reels you will be competing with the US makers that make some of the best reels in the world. If you make a mid-priced reel then you have competition from over seas and the US.
Now if you are considering designing your own reel and have it made by someone else, then I don't think that will help you through school either. For some reason I think this may be what you are planning. Anything that you might come up with will require some seed money and that may be hard for a college student.
You are an engineering student so I think your first step is to do a cost/profit analysis. You may be graduated by the time you get that all figured out.
Then tell us your features and price and we can tell you if we would buy it.
One area that I think China and Korea has not figured out is how to make a low cost quality reel that is LITE. If you could offer that combination I think you would have a better chance.