Georgetown University’s Office of Student Financial Services has had a troubling past with disappointing financial aid distributions for students. However, the coming months will offer a chance for the office to start to rebuild trust and credibility in the Georgetown community.
The Editorial Board calls on Georgetown and the OSFS to build student faith in the office over the coming months by providing a responsive, transparent process for distributing aid and ensuring comprehensive, responsive aid services for first-year students during the Summer Hilltop Immersion Program. SHIP will offer students a meal plan, on-campus housing and the opportunity to take between six and eight credits of classes starting June 4 and ending July 9 at a total cost of $7500 for each student.
At the beginning of both the fall and spring semesters, many students had unacceptable experiences with the OSFS and their financial aid packages. Last fall, students saw significant cuts to their financial aid and inexplicable increases in their expected family contributions, causing some to pay more than in previous years despite reductions in the price of tuition. The Hoya reported at the time that about 30% of students saw a change of $10,000 or more in their aid award, according to a Georgetown University Student Association survey.
Further, the university did not release financial aid packages to students until after the earliest payment deadline for the Premier Payment plan, leaving many students in the dark about their financial situation going into the school year. In addition to an economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this negligence was unacceptable.
Though the university later increased financial aid packages after student backlash, the spring semester brought similar problems. The new semester introduced a second round of financial aid cuts, in which many students — even those with expected family contributions of $0 — saw their packages reduced and their contributions raised.
At the time, the university denied funding was being reduced for the spring semester.
“Georgetown continues to meet full demonstrated financial need for undergraduates,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Financial aid funding for the Spring term has not been reduced.”
As a result of these frustrations, GUSA leaders began working with university administrators to reform the financial aid system to prevent future inequities, according to Sydney Gilbert (SFS ’23), co-director of GUSA’s Socioeconomic Advocacy Team.
“Other students and I have been meeting with administrators, and we’re still working on creating long-term changes to the financial aid,” Gilbert said in an interview with The Hoya. “We can’t guarantee the administration won’t make more errors, but we are working extensively to try to create systems and get processes in place to stop this from happening this time.”
These efforts to make the OSFS more responsive and the aid process more transparent will help put financial aid on the right track and build student trust in OSFS, but the damage from the past year has already been done. Jane Cai (SFS ’23), a co-chair of the GUSA Socioeconomic Advocacy Team, noted she and other students feel they can no longer trust the financial aid system at Georgetown.
“Overall, there’s a sense of distrust or a frustration with the structure of tuition and paying for college,” Cai said in an interview with The Hoya. “The university has proven to us that they run as a business, to make money, and I don’t trust them not to put profits over people.”
As the Georgetown community prepares for summer and the following academic year, OSFS has a chance to reestablish credibility among students and prove that they value student input by distributing aid in a more timely manner and by communicating more clearly about changes to student aid awards.
One way for the university to convey its seriousness about this issue is by ensuring a timely, transparent financial aid distribution process for the first-year students who take part in the Summer Hilltop Immersion Program. Success in this action will begin to remedy student fears that they can no longer trust OSFS to provide robust financial aid services as we enter the 2021-22 academic year.
The OSFS will provide full need-based financial aid for qualifying students, according to a university spokesperson.
“The Summer Hilltop Immersion Program was created with an understanding that this year has been unique,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Full-need financial aid will be available to eligible participating students to make this opportunity accessible to all our new Hoyas.”
According to first-year GUSA Senator Nirvana Khan (SFS ’24), however, the OSFS’ previous failures have left students with concerns about whether the university will follow through on its commitment to financial aid that meets the full extent of student need.
“I had difficulties with my financial aid this semester; my spring financial aid was drastically lower than fall, which made making payments on time very difficult,” Khan wrote in an email to The Hoya. “My biggest concern is definitely financial aid and medical accommodations. Georgetown has a responsibility to ensure this program is accessible to everyone.”
After a tumultuous academic year, OSFS has the opportunity to assuage the concerns that students represented by Cai and Khan have expressed. By rolling out SHIP financial aid packages quickly and transparently, Georgetown can provide equitable access to the program while regaining some trust among the student body. Further, as the OSFS works with student leaders to reform financial aid for the 2021-22 academic year, the office must ensure that aid packages reflect the reliability the office has promised to show to SHIP participants. As a result, students will have both equitable financial access to university services and a general sense of ease surrounding the process.
With a smooth rollout of financial aid for both the SHIP program and the following academic year, the OSFS can finally begin to rebuild much-needed trust with the Georgetown student body.
The Hoya’s Editorial Board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.