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Students express confusion about room, board reimbursements process

Reimbursement for 50 percent of spring costs calculated based on level of parent contribution

By and
Senior Staff Writers
Monday, April 20, 2020

After asking students to vacate campus to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the University committed to issuing credits or refunds for 50 percent of students’ room and board fees for the semester. 

But three students interviewed by The Herald who receive either full or partial financial aid expressed confusion about the process implemented by the University to determine the reimbursement amounts provided. A number of posts on Dear Blueno — a student-run Facebook page that solicits and publishes anonymous submissions — also reflected discontent with the level of transparency from the University regarding the reimbursement process, as well as with inconsistencies in credited amounts.

In an email to The Herald, University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote that the decision to give students credits for the unused portion of their room and board costs and the methodology used to determine reimbursement levels “were designed specifically to ensure equitable treatment for all students.”

Since the University vacated campus after the seventh week of classes — close to the midpoint of the semester — “all students who departed campus will pay 50 percent of what they would have paid in total for their housing and dining this semester,” Clark wrote.

Each student’s reimbursement amount is determined by their level of parent contribution. Students receiving financial aid received a credit for half of the total amount they would have paid towards room and board this semester, depending on the percent of the student’s parental contribution toward cost of attendance,” Clark wrote.

The reimbursement amount differs for every student — depending on financial aid awards based on need, the amount students and families have paid to date, as well as students’ housing assignment and meal plan choices. 

Clark wrote that students who previously owed a balance before receiving the room and board refund “will see the credit to the applied balance due.” Students who did not previously owe a balance will have a “credit balance” in their student account.

“Refunds of any credit balances are being made to all seniors, without any action needed by the student. For returning students, any credit balance will be applied toward next semester’s charges,” Clark wrote. Students seeking a refund rather than a credit on their account can make that request through the Bursar Office website.

According to the Student Financial Services website, all credits and refunds should have been posted to students’ accounts by April 6.

Brittany Ruiz ’22, who is on full financial aid, said that she received a $180 credit from the University for her unused room and board this semester.

“I was confused about the entire process — I don’t know what formula they used,” said Ruiz, who lived in Graduate Center D and was enrolled in the Flex 460 meal plan this year. “I saw that I got $180 in credit and was like, ‘I guess this is all I get.’” 

Ruiz said that while she did not know what level of reimbursement to expect from the University, she did not expect her credited reimbursement to be only $180, knowing the total costs of room and board.

Still, Ruiz has not reached out to the University to clarify her reimbursement. “I feel like part of my mindset for not reaching out is because I am on financial aid, (I would) feel as if I was being ungrateful,” she said. “I know I shouldn’t be, but it almost feels like that.”

James Bove ’23, who is on partial financial aid, petitioned to stay on campus and was relocated to Vartan Gregorian Quad A. “I did not (get a refund) because I stayed on campus, and I was somewhat expecting that,” they said. Looking back, Bove said that “the best decision would probably be to leave given that there was the refund.” 

But after speaking with a friend who receives a comparable level of financial aid, Bove added that they are unsure if the level of reimbursement they would have received would have been enough for them to justify leaving campus.

Eric Ingram ’21, who is also on partial financial aid and was enrolled in the off-campus meal plan, said that he has not yet noticed a reimbursement credited to his account. 

“I haven’t personally gotten a refund yet,” he said, adding that speaking with The Herald was his “first time hearing about” the reimbursements issued. “I feel like there wasn’t really a lot of transparency with that.”

Aside from room and board reimbursements, Clark noted that the University has “taken other actions to ensure that students with the highest financial need are supported during this especially challenging period.” These measures include granting E-Gap funds for students with the highest demonstrated need, assisting students with the costs of moving off campus and providing “instructional resources such as laptops to ensure that remote instruction is feasible for students of all income levels.”

‘We are continually evaluating the needs of students as they are raised to identify the best and most equitable ways to offer assistance for the remainder of the semester,” Clark wrote.

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