University News

Financial Aid Advisory Board seeks to clarify aid process

Undergraduate Council of Students creates board as part of efforts to combat socioeconomic barriers

Staff Writer
Friday, December 4, 2015

The newly-commissioned Financial Aid Advisory Board will begin meeting next semester with the goal of increasing transparency in the process of receiving aid and enhancing communication between the Financial Aid Office and aid recipients, said leaders of the Undergraduate Council of Students.

Staffed by eight undergraduates appointed earlier this fall, the board will serve as a platform to amplify student voices in the process of applying for and receiving aid, said UCS President Sazzy Gourley ’16.

“The board will generate recommendations and strategies for ways that students can more easily navigate the financial aid process,” Gourley said.

The idea for a student advisory board dealing with financial aid arose from a Corporation focus group on the topic last May, said UCS Vice President Alana Bhatla ’16. “This is meant to be a space where students can bring up the things they feel are most important,” she said.

Applying for and being awarded aid can be a confusing process, and the new board could help clarify certain information, Gourley said. Students can find it challenging to understand the duties of the Financial Aid Office, the Bursar’s Office and the Payroll Office, as they are often communicated poorly, he added.

Integrating loan options from outside the University presents an additional problem, Gourley said. “Borrowing federal loans is difficult and confusing. There’s a lot of stigma,” he said.

Gray Brakke ’18, one of the eight students appointed to the board, said he hopes to “see more transparency of financial aid policies and procedures.”

For first-years especially, the process is “opaque” and needs additional clarification, Brakke said. It would be helpful to assist first-years in their understanding of how loans and grants are calculated, as well as how work-study fits into the equation to make up the financial aid package, he added.

As a sophomore reapplying for financial aid, Brakke found it unclear how the package changed between years, and he saw significant alterations to his award without receiving any explanation. “It feels like there’s a disconnect between the (Financial Aid Office) and students,” he said.

UCS Chief of Staff Elena Saltzman ’16 served on the committee that interviewed applicants to the board. She said many candidates cited the problem of communication with the Financial Aid Office and demonstrated a desire to develop strategies to eliminate it.

During the application process, the committee sought students who had personal experience interacting with the Financial Aid Office, Bhatla said. “We wanted students who were able to shed light on various aspects of the process that need to be improved and highlight multiple avenues for doing so,” she said.

The new board will serve as part of a wider initiative to address socioeconomic barriers to success — a central component of the council’s plan heading into this semester, Gourley said.

“There are more areas where the University can do more to support low-income and first-generation students,” he said, adding that the Financial Aid Advisory Board “is just one piece of that.”


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