Members of Student Government have largely come together to start a dialogue on campus about how The University handles financial aid money.
The Student Senate passed a resolution Feb. 6 that seeks to “examine and change” a financial aid policy currently in place. According to the resolution, The University may reduce a student’s need-based financial aid package if he or she earns scholarship money from private external sources.
First-year student Liam Reeves authored the bill, which received 17 senators’ signatures when passed at a senate meeting. Reeves said he got the idea for the bill from his own experience with The University’s financial aid structure.
“I applied for a number of outside private scholarships, and upon receiving those scholarships, I was notified that my financial aid from The University of Scranton would be diminished based on how much I received from those organizations,” Reeves said.
Reeves’ concern is that students will face “exorbitant debt” after college and that having The University decrease its initial financial aid offering may only exacerbate that problem. He also said he believes the policy does not encourage students to seek additional ways to pay their tuition.
“It just sort of feels like you’re chastising students for taking the initiative to go outside what’s expected of them and outside of what they are able to do and properly pay for their education in a way that doesn’t affect them,” Reeves said.
Senior Christopher Kustera also said it seems unfair to take away money students have earned for their own initiative and effort. He said the amount of need-based aid The University provided him decreased when he was awarded a private scholarship a professor nominated him for at the start of the 2014-2015 academic year.
“What incentive does that give me to go out and try to fund my education?” Kustera said.
Although the bill specifically mentions making a change, Student Government President Aris Rotella and Vice President Jason Weinpel emphasized that the goal is to start a conversation on campus about the rules and look into the language in University financial aid policy. Student Government representatives met Tuesday with Vice Provost for Student Formation & Campus Life Anitra McShea, Ph.D., and Dean of Students Barbara King. Rotella said McShea told them she expects to send the resolution back to the Student Senate with suggested changes.
“The ultimate result will most likely be it being sent back from Dr. McShea. … Dr. McShea says it will have her approval, hopefully, if we can respond to her revisions, which are fine. Most of it is the data gathering that we wanted to do after the resolution was passed” will be done before Rotella said after the meeting.
That will involve “reaching out to Financial Aid for a more inclusive understanding of what’s going on,” he said. Rotella added that the “Senate is very happy” with the result. “That’s governance working as it should,” he said.
Financial Aid Director William Burke said the policy in question “is really just a safety valve” to make sure University resources are distributed to those students with the “greatest amount of financial need.”
For the current academic year, 450 students earned outside scholarships and only 12 of those saw an adjustment in their financial package, Burke said.
“I think many universities subtract dollar for dollar for outside awards,” Burke said. “We don’t feel that’s equitable.”
Burke also said any additional money is used to help students whose needs might have changed for a number of reasons. Burke said the financial aid office reviews students’ financial statuses throughout the year and takes “a very proactive special circumstances policy” that considers several factors.
Both Rotella and Reeves said they believe the current policy may contradict the Jesuit ideals at the heart of The University’s educational mission. The bill notes that Fairfield University and Georgetown University, both Jesuit universities, do not have similar policies. However, the goal for right now is just to start a dialogue, Rotella said. Rotella and others acknowledged they expect the process to continue beyond the end of this academic year and possibly a few years into the future because the ultimate hope is to effect change if necessary and appropriate.
“We want to see what’s going on, really. And, again, this is coming with no presumptions. We’re not coming in here saying, ‘You did something wrong,’” Rotella said. “This is almost like a court of law; we’re here to find things out, we’re not accusing anybody.”
Feb. 20, 2015