A student takes notes during a Zoom online class. Students must agree to pay tuition and fees before they sign up for fall classes, but some students still don't know how much this semester will cost them.

Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

A student takes notes during a Zoom online class. Students must agree to pay tuition and fees before they sign up for fall classes, but some students still don't know how much this semester will cost them.

August 25, 2020

With Course Enrollment Days Away, Some Students Still Don’t Have Financial Aid

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With just one day before course enrollment begins, students must sign a Financial Responsibility agreement to pay their tuition and other fees to sign up for classes. But some students still haven’t received their financial aid to cover these bills.

Students usually receive their financial aid packages for the fall semester in the spring. However, delays have forced some students, already strained by the pandemic, to agree to pay tuition without knowing how much the semester will cost them.

Most years, Tomás Reuning ’21 gets his financial aid by May, but he still has not received his aid. Reuning said his roommate had to cover his rent for September, because without financial aid, he couldn’t pay for it.

“This delay is ridiculous and inconsiderate, especially of middle and low-income students that don’t have the financial liquidity to just drop money on rent if they don’t have financial aid,” Reuning said.

Some students who submitted their forms to the financial office on time still faced the brunt of the delays, said Abena Gyasi ’22, who still has not received her financial aid.

Gyasi said she wished Cornell released more public information about delays and when she will receive her financial aid statement. The University did not respond for comment on the delays by the time of publication.

“It makes me feel like admins don’t want to hold themselves accountable for something that is entirely on them,” Gyasi said. “I submitted my documents and FAFSA on time.”

Gyasi isn’t alone: Melissa Kwakye-Dankwa ’22 said she and her friends have contacted the financial aid office about the delays so they feel comfortable signing the financial agreement and enrolling for classes, but have received little information.

Kwakye-Dankwa said she and her friends keep hearing different, increasingly delayed deadlines for when they will receive their financial aid.

“Financial aid has delayed calls. People are on the phone for 70 minutes waiting for a representative, and when they do get one, we are all getting the same vague answers,” Kwakye-Dankwa said. “People have lost jobs during the pandemic so paying tuition is even harder. Some of my friends are crying. It’s really stressful right now.”

Even some students who have received financial aid are still facing delays when they try to correct errors, according to Olubunmi Osias ’21. While she received her financial aid package on Aug. 14, it incorrectly marked a charge for housing, which her job covers as an undergraduate residential fellow. Osias said this error has not yet been fixed.

This error is one of several financial aid office complications she has experienced, making Osias wary of signing the Financial Responsibility Agreement, which states that if a student does not pay their Cornell fees on time, the University may put their account on financial hold, preventing them from registering for classes.

“Money doesn’t come out of thin air. It’s not like everyone just instantaneously has enough money to pay for Cornell out of pocket,” Osias said. “When you don’t give people their aid, you make their lives infinitely more difficult.”

Osias said the lack of paid work opportunities this summer means that many students have even less money to spare in the case of unexpected expenses, making the student contribution fee alone hard to pay. To address these issues, Osias believes that the administration should provide a larger grace period for signing the agreement and paying University fees.

Kwakye-Dankwa has voiced her concerns about financial aid, regularly calling the financial aid office, posting on Twitter and emailing Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi. She said she feels binding agreements and financial aid delays are disproportionately hurting low-income students, and that Cornell has ignored their needs.

“You shouldn’t be having students sign a financially binding agreement without giving them their financial aid,” Kwakye-Dankwa said. “That’s immoral.”