Nearly three weeks after financial aid packages were initially released, students are continuing to demand increased aid and a more transparent financial aid process.
Due to widespread reports students received lower aid packages than normal and packages that failed to meet their needs, students have asked the university to reconsider its financial aid policies. The first major set of policy changes around financial aid and billing for the Fall 2020 semester were sent to the student body and their families in an email on Aug. 10.
The email, from Provost Robert Groves and Chief Operating Officer Geoffrey Chatas, readdressed the previously announced $2,900 tuition credit to be extended to students on financial aid, clarifying the credit will apply to students with any amount of family contribution and that the credit will be applied directly, separate from the GU Scholarship. Additionally, the email announced the university will waive the student summer work contribution, an expected amount of savings earned by students over the summer, entirely, and release revised financial aid awards reflecting these changes no later than Aug. 26.
The university will also consider “requests for reconsideration of aid eligibility.” Students may request reconsiderations on the grounds of reduction of 2020 income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes in housing status and expenses, among other reasons. Undergraduates who have completed their financial aid applications can apply for emergency loans of an increased amount of $2,500 to cover certain expenses. Tuition will be charged on Aug. 31, billing statements issued on Sept. 1 and payments due Sept. 30. The university will not penalize students for overdue balances until Oct. 31.
These updates, while seen as improvements in some regards, do not address all of the issues brought about by Fall 2020 financial aid packages, students report.
“It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” GUSA Senator Eric Bazail-Eimil (SFS ’23) said. “Of course, the other question is will they actually follow through on this promise and how will that promise play out in terms of tangible benefits for students. And then moving in the longer term, how do we prevent this kind of breakdown in communication and transparency and how do we work with the Office of Student Financial Services to make the financial aid process more accessible.”
GUSA has been at the forefront of student advocacy regarding financial aid. In early August, the organization held a teach-in about financial aid at Georgetown. On Aug. 16, the GUSA Senate passed a resolution to affirm their commitment to this advocacy. The resolution demanded increased transparency in the financial aid process and the release of the formula used to calculate financial need. It also urged the university to review financial aid for undocumented students who are not eligible for federal aid, ensure work-study positions will be available at times that accommodate students in different time-zones, and create a student working group on financial aid to continue cooperation with the student body.
According to Bazail-Eimil, in a meeting between GUSA members and university administrators, Dean Patricia McWade of Student Financial Services promised a student financial aid working group would be established by October. Bazail-Eimil hopes that with the working group, they will be able to have insight into how financial need is calculated.
While Georgetown’s new updates, specifically the waiving of the student summer work contribution, inspire hope for some students pushing the university to adapt financial aid policy for the Fall 2020 semester, other students still feel as hopeless and frustrated as before.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous to protect personal information and will be referred to as Oliver, reported the recent updates from the university don’t really change his financial situation. The waiving of the summer work contribution, while a good start, doesn’t even begin to make up for the reduction of Oliver’s financial aid.
“I’m definitely glad that they did that but on the other side of the coin, I know that for me and a lot of other students, our financial aid got reduced by like 200 percent or something wild, so reducing the cost by about $2,000 is nice but I’m still paying astronomically more than I was paying last year,” he said.
Oliver and his family have talked with their financial aid counselor, and it’s led them to believe that requesting that their aid package be reconsidered is not a real option. A lot of this doubt comes from the lack of transparency from the university regarding how they calculate financial need in the first place. “It seems like there are no grounds by which we could reapply and we don’t understand the package well enough to make a really good case for reapplying and frankly, we’re also a little bit scared to reapply,” Oliver said, citing concerns his aid will be further reduced, or his family will be asked to retroactively pay for the previous year. “We really don’t understand how they calculate it.”
While Oliver thinks the changes in the financial aid policy from the university are good, it’s not reassuring him that he and his family are going to be okay. “I feel like them addressing it in small ways is helpful but it doesn’t really address the root issue, which is that something is clearly wrong with the way that financial aid is calculated and something is clearly different than in past years.”
The lack of transparency from the university has been a problem for students like Oliver throughout this entire process, he said. Oliver expressed a desire for Georgetown to provide the student body with more information about the financial situation, the way that he feels GUSA has. “That’s something that I really appreciate about GUSA, is their transparency and the easy access that we have with them. For me, almost the biggest frustration is feeling like I’m not being heard. I know I’m being heard by GUSA, and that’s wonderful, but they aren’t the ones that can really make the change.”
When initially asked about the email from Groves and Chatas on Aug. 10, Oliver had to be reminded of what it said; it had made such a seemingly small impact on him and his family.
“Honestly when you asked to speak about this, I was like oh yeah they sent an email and we barely paid attention to it, like we read it through and were like well that doesn’t really make that much of a difference, so we’re going to continue functioning as we were before with me trying my best to get a job and everything,” Oliver said. “I could barely remember the details of it because it really didn’t really do very much for us.”