February 18, 2009

C.U. Offers Variety of Financial Services

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This is the fourth article in a series analyzing socioeconomic issues at Cornell poverty and in the surrounding community.

Despite the nation’s economic crisis, Cornell’s new financial aid initiative, announced last January, has continued to help many students from families of low-socioeconomic status. On top of this, the University offers a number of services and programs to Cornellians from low-income families, many of whom are first generation college students, in order to ease the adjustment to college life.
Currently, the financial aid office offers a number of services to all students at Cornell, including walk-in hours and peer advising.
“One of our missions is to help find ways for students to make Cornell affordable. We try hard to not make any assumptions about a student’s background when he or she approaches us for assistance,” said Thomas Keane, Director of Financial Aid for Scholarships and Policy Analysis in the Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment.

“Our counseling staff are available for walk-in hours from noon to 3:30 every day. In addition, we hold walk-in hours at the Carol Tatkon Center in Balch Hall for the first 6 weeks of the fall semester and first 4 weeks of the spring semester, from 4 pm to 6 pm,” he added.

Evelyn Ambriz ’11, who benefits from Cornell’s new financial aid initiative, which eliminates need-based student loans for family incomes below $75,000, described her situation and how she used the services provided by the office of financial aid.

“Neither of my parents went to school, elementary school, pre-school, anything. They speak only Spanish. It’s very hard for me to explain anything to them because they don’t understand how hard it is to be in college. They don’t understand why I can’t do my school work and have a job at the same time,” said Ambriz.

“Last year, I was in the financial aid office almost every day trying to find ways to pay for college … I was thinking of transferring to NYU but the financial aid wasn’t as good as here,” she added.

Ryan Lavin ’09, president of the Student Assembly, has worked in the Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment as a peer advisor since his freshman year. He feels that all students should know more about what Cornell’s financial aid office has to offer.

“Besides the need-based that student receive in their financial aid packages like grants, endowed grants, scholarships, and need-based loans, there are a number of other resources that the Office of Financial Aid can offer, I only wish students knew more about them,” he stated in an e-mail.

Lavin described such services as The Students Helping Students Fund, a by-line funded account that the S.A. started and has full discretion over. The fund offers emergency grant money to students who find themselves in any kind of emergency such as medical issues, family emergencies, mental health problems, etc. There is a special committee within the S.A. that reviews all requests.

“There is also the Budget Increase: if students have to use Cornell Health Insurance, or have medical fees at Gannet, or go over their budgeted books and supplies costs, or even have to purchase a new computer; they can apply for a budget increase for those amounts and receive more financial aid to help them cover their increased budget,” Lavin stated.

Lavin also added that students struggling to satisfy their summer savings expectation can receive help from the Office of Financial Aid. “Students on financial aid are expected to save a certain amount from their summer work to contribute to their cost of education. Some students do not-for-profit work, or unpaid internships, and don’t meet the amount that they were expected to contribute from summer savings. They can apply for a ‘summer savings expectation’ and their financial aid can be increased by the amount they are not contributing due to their particular summer situation.”

Cornell’s Office of Minority Educational Affairs also provides services for students of low-socioeconomic status. OMEA’s mission is to facilitate students’ adjustment to Cornell and to increase the graduation rate by offering students advising on academic and financial issues. Two programs that OMEA currently offers for students of low socioeconomic status from New York State are the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program and the Educational Opportunity Program.

“The OMEA administers the HEOP/EOP New York State Programs for low income/first generation college students who meet the eligibility standards set by New York State Department of Education. This cohort includes students of all races, including majority students. The unit within OMEA that takes the lead in the recruitment, retention and graduation of these students is the State Programs Office. In accordance with State regulations, Cornell provides academic support services through the Learning Strategies Center, and through various programs in the Colleges,” said Moji E. Olaniyan, Executive Director of OMEA.

Oliyan emphasized that OMEA’s state programs are not only for minority students.

“OMEA considers low income/first generation college students that qualify for HEOP/EOP as part of students that OMEA serves,” she said.

Ambriz, participated in the Prefreshman Summer Program, a program run by OMEA. The program was created in order to help students adjust to college life.

“The Prefreshman Summer Program is mandatory for all HOP/EOP students and is open to students from minorities. It was a great experience. I really got to see what college was going to be like; It helped me learn how to put my academics first,” Ambriz said.

Ambriz expressed a bittersweet view of Cornell’s new financial aid initiative.

“I am happy with the reform Cornell has taken but it could go further,” she said.

“I have to pay for my apartment, my food, clothes and they don’t take that into account.”