On Friday, I received my financial aid package, which has left me blindsided three weeks before classes are set to resume. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgetown University is pressuring students who receive financial aid to find money they do not have to pay for a second-rate online education. The university has asked me to take on greater student loan debt and even had the audacity to increase my expected family contribution from the prior year. Georgetown has prioritized wealthier students by providing a steep cut to their costs for the next semester while placing the financial burden of the pandemic entirely on low-income students. My experience is not unique, which makes it clear Georgetown is leaving low-income students behind by placing a significant undue financial burden on them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the 2019-20 school year, my expected family contribution as reported in my financial aid package was $35,280, which amounts to $17,640 per semester. Breaking down my aid package, I received $16,501 in institutional scholarship, a subsidized loan of $1,750 and a work-study award of $1,500 per semester, which I consider an appropriate amount in the context of my financial situation.
For the 2020-21 school year, my EFC increased to $40,280. For the fall semester, my parents are expected to pay $20,140. After a lengthy discussion with financial aid advisers, I was able to understand why my EFC increased, though this is not the main concern of my argument. Irrespective of changes to my EFC, this year’s offer is far worse than last year’s. Not only did my institutional scholarship decrease, but my work-study increased to $1,600 per semester and my subsidized loans increased to $2,500 per semester. In essence, Georgetown has disguised an additional $600 of increased labor and future debt as aid. Despite my total aid package decreasing from the previous year, the university has still managed to increase my loan and work-study burden. The financial aid office emphasized that this is a routine practice. By statute, the federal cap limiting work-study and federal subsidized loans increases as students progress through college. Georgetown takes full advantage of this policy by awarding as much of its aid in the form of debt and labor as legally allowed every year. This policy, though legal, is deceptive. A student awarded $3,500 in subsidized loans as a freshman will find themselves awarded $5,500 in loans as a senior, with $2,000 less in scholarship. Finally, the EFC is divided into a parent and student contribution, which is not to be confused with the work-study award. My student contribution is $2,400 for the year. In the midst of unprecedented economic devastation, I do not think Georgetown understands the difficulty of earning an additional $2,400 beyond the work-study requirement for the upcoming year.
It should go without saying that I will not be able to attend Georgetown next year if I am expected to pay this much. Beyond the problems I have already illustrated, my new EFC does not account for the fact that I still have to pay for essentials. Just because the fall semester is virtual does not mean I do not have to eat or pay rent. For reference, using data from last year, an average semester with an 18-week meal plan and 200 Flex dollars was $3,007, and a standard double room rate for Harbin Hall was $5,390. Overall, the expenses of room and board were embedded into my EFC last year, yet the university has failed to adjust my EFC accordingly this year by not considering the additional costs of living at home.
This dispersion of funds is highly unfair for students on financial aid. Comparing the cost of the spring 2020 semester before the pandemic to that of the upcoming fall semester, the significant financial burden Georgetown is placing on students is apparent.
A first-year student paying full tuition originally would have been billed $76,280 for the entire year, or $38,140 for a single semester. Having received a 10% tuition cut as well as the fact that they do not have to pay room and board, the university has calculated that the cost of attendance for an average student paying full tuition during the fall 2020 semester is $28,964. Full-time students will be paying 75.9% of what they would be paying for a normal semester. In comparison, the cost of my attendance, loans and work-study during the previous academic year, calculated by subtracting institutional scholarship money, was $22,193.50 per semester. The cost of my attendance, loans and work-study for the fall 2020 semester is $22,560. I am paying 101.7% of what I would normally be paying for the fall 2020 semester. In case this difference isn’t clear enough, a student paying full tuition is receiving a bill that has been cut by 24.1% while my bill has instead been increased by 1.7%. Regardless of intent, the school is basically forcing students on financial aid to subsidize tuition cuts for wealthy students.
In light of these failings, I am disappointed at how Georgetown has billed itself as a school that takes cura personalis seriously. I am aware I am not the only financial aid student who is facing increased hardship because of the pandemic, which has only been exacerbated by Georgetown’s inadequate and untimely guidance. While a 10% tuition reduction looks good on paper, the sinister reality is that many low-income students have been placed in even worse financial situations by Georgetown. In many cases, including my own, Georgetown has accounted for the 10% tuition cut by reducing aid rather than reducing the EFC. While the university has taken steps to correct this disparity by announcing a tuition credit of an additional 10% of tuition to students on financial aid, it had initially only planned to apply the 10% tuition cut to students whose families can afford full tuition. The university’s initial position, before public pressure forced a change, only reaffirms the prioritization of donors and its own image over the needs of low-income students.
If that were not enough, Georgetown’s delay in publishing financial aid information has placed students in an impossible quandary. Having announced a virtual reopening plan July 6, students were already only given a tight window to finalize their fall 2020 plans. The university has only compounded issues for financial aid students by being late to release financial aid packages as well. The university waited until July 31 at 6 p.m. EDT, just 25 days before school begins, to announce what these packages would look like. For the next couple of weeks, students in similar situations to mine must try to figure out our future plans knowing that the current financial offers we have received will not allow us to attend Georgetown this fall. Georgetown’s disregard for students’ financial situations means many students must now spend valuable time writing emotionally burdensome and highly personal messages to their aid advisers. This disregard also means potentially delaying students’ fall academic plans, because we have been given no time to consider switching to a different institution. Ultimately, students may have to decide between dropping out of school or transferring to another institution.
I can only say I am disappointed by the university’s lack of support for students like me. If Georgetown does not update financial aid packages to reflect low-income students’ actual needs, I and others may no longer be able to call Georgetown home. Even if the school takes further action to correct these inconsiderate financial aid packages, I cannot help but feel betrayed by the school and deceived by the Jesuit values it so often espouses. I want to remind Georgetown administrators of the words of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., which can be found proudly displayed on our own website: “People for Others.” Arrupe “provocatively challenged the alumni of Jesuit schools and universities to be engaged in the struggle for justice to protect the needs of the most vulnerable.” If Georgetown’s actions continue to drive the most vulnerable away, it should no longer claim to “protect the needs of the most vulnerable.”
Hansen Lian is a sophomore in the College. Hansen Lian is the academic news desk editor for The Hoya. He has recused himself from editing news stories on recent cuts to financial aid.