Georgetown University disclosed substantial reductions in financial aid for students living off campus Friday, angering many who feel the new changes place undue financial burden on low-income students.
The university said in past announcements that it would alter fall financial aid packages for students living off campus to adjust for room and board costs. However, the financial aid cuts have left many students paying the same amount or more to attend the university than preceding years, despite the university’s decision to cut tuition for the virtual fall semester. Many students receiving financial aid have also reported inexplicable increases in their expected family contributions — the estimated amount of money a student and their family can expect to pay — despite not being able to pay more.
The timeline of financial aid decisions has added to student stress, according to GUSA officials. The financial aid packages were released only three weeks before classes are set to begin. While approximately 1,400 students have received their financial aid information, freshmen, students living on campus and some international students have not yet received financial aid details by the time of publication, according to Georgetown University Student Association officials.
In response to financial aid changes, GUSA created a petition calling for the reappraisal of released financial aid packages and the reevaluation of packages that have not yet been disclosed. The petition, which has garnered more than 550 student signatures as of Aug. 3, also calls for an overhaul of financial aid calculations and more transparency with the financial aid process.
“The University’s consistently delayed and insufficient responses have failed to prioritize student needs, undermining student wellbeing and betraying the Jesuit values Georgetown claims to hold,” the petition reads. “There are students who are paying more to stay at home than they ever did to live on campus, with family contributions increased by a factor of nearly 7. There are students whose scholarship awards have decreased by over $15,000.00 since last year, with external scholarships so systematically miscalculated that it barely impacts their cost of attendance.”
Approximately 30% of students who received financial aid for the 2020-21 academic year saw a change of $10,000 or more in aid from the previous academic year, according to a GUSA survey of students that garnered 289 responses. The survey did not specify whether these changes were positive or negative.
The cutbacks to financial aid have hit first-generation and low-income students the hardest, with many already working full time amid an economic downturn, including Kimberly Nguyen (COL ’23).
“I’m working 3 jobs currently trying to help make ends meet during this pandemic while my mom was on unemployment leave,” Nguyen wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I pay for my own schooling, taking out loans to be able to attend this institution. This year, my expected family responsibility on MyAccess states a 9K increase from the year prior. How does Georgetown expect me to pay this difference? I’m living at home, not using campus facilities, or on a meal plan. This 9K increase in cost of attendance is detrimental and not reasonable.”
Some students have seen such a decrease in financial aid that they will likely no longer be able to attend Georgetown, according to the petition.
“If I can’t win some random outside scholarships in the coming weeks, Georgetown University is now officially beyond what my family’s financial means can pay for,” an anonymous testimony in the petition reads. “This is an unacceptable slap in the face to students like me and makes it alarmingly clear who Georgetown values within its student body. The fact that it will, quite literally, cost more for me to stay at home (for the safety of our entire campus community) than any year I’ve physically attended Georgetown’s campus is disheartening.”
The university did not provide a comment on student financial aid concerns by the time of publication.
The release of reduced financial aid packages comes after the university’s announcement July 21 that undergraduate students living off campus would receive a tuition discount of 10%. In the preceding weeks, more than 2,000 community members signed a petition calling on the university to reduce tuition and extend the deferral deadline. On July 29, the university said it would apply the reduction to all undergraduates.
The tuition cut, however, had no impact on the expected family contribution threshold, meaning students already paying full or nearly full tuition would largely reap the benefits of the policy. Other institutions, such as Williams College, have reduced family contributions for students receiving financial aid in addition to cutting tuition.
Some students, including GUSA Senate Finance and Appropriations Chair Eric Bazail-Eimil (SFS ’23), suspect the tuition cuts played a role in financial aid reductions. The Hoya has not be able to confirm these suspicions.
“I can’t imagine that in some way, it’s not related to the decision to reduce tuition,” Bazail-Eimil wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Especially when it comes to tuition-dependent institutions that redistribute hefty portions of their tuition revenues, shrinking the size of the pool of available funds inherently brings about this kind of undesirable outcome.”
The recent financial aid changes have reinforced student cynicism about university policies. Nile Blass (COL ’22), one of the organizers of the GUSA petition, said the financial aid reductions can only be seen as a way for the university to shore up its finances.
“Georgetown is too big with too many resources and too many possibilities of making correct, fair and efficient decisions for this to be anything but intentional,” Blass said in an interview with The Hoya. “Even their failure and their complacency is intentional to an extent because it means that they didn’t put to use the vast amounts of institutional and social and economic powers that they have to ensure that this can be done in an efficient way.”
After the petition, GUSA plans to take further action to advocate for increased financial aid and to ensure the university addresses first-generation and low-income students’ unease, according to GUSA Senate Speaker Daniella Sanchez (COL ’22).
“I think that the university needs to realize that this isn’t an issue that we will just forget about or accept because this is affecting livelihoods,” Sanchez said during an interview with The Hoya. “This is administration literally taking away the sense of financial security that students used to have. So this isn’t something that we’re going to forget anytime soon.”