On its website, Georgetown University’s Office of Student Financial Services boasts that it works “closely with both students and parents to ensure we meet your full demonstrated financial need,” and it claims to value financial aid as a “key component of the University’s Jesuit, Catholic mission.” At a town hall organized by the Georgetown University Student Association on July 16, Dean of Student Financial Services Patricia McWade even told the 660 students in attendance that Georgetown would be meeting “all students’ needs.”
With statements like these, administrators promised Georgetown would prioritize the needs of students with financial need. Students were assured again and again that Georgetown would meet students’ full need no matter what. However, students have been lulled into a false sense of hope and security that the university will step up to support low-income students during this time. After announcing a tuition reduction that would help only those paying full tuition or close to it, students were unsure about how the reduction would affect financial aid. But no one could have foreseen the magnitude of the present situation.
All hope that Georgetown would honor these commitments was lost with the release of financial aid packages July 31.
These packages were anything but generous. They were an insult. We cannot help but feel misled and deceived. With the assurance that full aid would be met and a housing stipend would be distributed, many students signed leases for the year or semester. Students did not have time to request a deferral or attempt to transfer. Administrators have not clarified the leave of absence policy, making it inaccessible to many students. Lacking the privilege and luxury of taking gap semesters and leaves of absences because of the conditions associated with their federal loans, some students may even be forced to make a decision to withdraw or face insolvency. It’s too late to seek more scholarships for the semester or back out of leases. Not to mention, most student contributions went up, but many internships were canceled. For the summer and fall, jobs and paid internships are extremely difficult to attain, particularly in a recession. This predicament has made it nearly impossible for most students to meet their student financial contributions toward their financial aid packages. Yet Georgetown felt it was appropriate to increase students’ personal and family contributions, federal debt obligations and federal work-study hours. Increasing contributions by 685% — in one student’s case — and reducing financial aid to just 10% of the amounts previously received is nothing short of negligent.
On top of that disparity, low-income families are hurt most. Georgetown’s most vulnerable populations depend on the safety net afforded by financial aid and on-campus resources, and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated food and housing insecurity in the Georgetown community. Likewise, hundreds of these students found their family contributions drastically raised based on the first survey GUSA distributed with over 200 responses. Low-income students are constantly reminded that they are one of the lowest of Georgetown’s priorities, beginning with the administration’s decision to reject more than 300 applications for on-campus housing for the fall. Many of these applications came from low-income students. If Georgetown wishes to uphold the Jesuit values it advertises, it must stand with the people who are struggling the most. It must commit not just to the complete reevaluation of financial aid packages and individual family circumstances, but also to long-term reforms of the financial aid process on campus. In doing so, the system will be more accessible and fair to all students.
Whatever it takes to do this, Georgetown must correct this colossal failure. Amends must come even at the cost of dipping into the school’s pathetically small endowment. Corrections must come even at the cost of freezing much-needed facilities improvements. It is obvious that Georgetown simply seeks to make a profit. The $2,900 credit for students on financial aid is not a sustainable solution but a seemingly last-minute attempt to quickly fix this situation.
Students should not be forced to foot the bill and budget their education with less financial aid as the university tries to minimize new debt from the pandemic.
Students should not be forced to pay thousands more for a virtual education.
Students should not have their financial insecurity overlooked by the university.
Ultimately, Georgetown must increase the financial aid provided to each student. Students cannot be expected to pay more than their typical expected family contribution, especially not for virtual learning and especially when they aren’t paying for university-provided housing, meals or on-campus resources. Georgetown must not force every individual student to appeal but instead must reevaluate everyone’s package and increase aid. Profits must not be prioritized. Wealthy students must not be prioritized. Rather, Georgetown must provide students on financial aid with more financial assistance so they can attend this university without sacrificing their livelihood. Especially during such a stressful time when tax documents on file won’t accurately reflect the struggles so many families in our community are presently facing, immediate action is critical.
Georgetown, respect your students. Give us back the financial stability you’ve deprived us of and don’t subject us to an arcane and unreasonable process to regain it.
Nicolo Ferretti, GUSA president, is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Daniella Sanchez, speaker of the senate, is a junior in the College. Eric Bazail-Eimil, GUSA finance and appropriations chair, is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.