Boris Tsang/Sun File Photo

Over 50 Cornell students have signed a petition appealing to University administration to address financial aid delays.

August 19, 2021

Financial Aid Delays to Leave Students Biting Nails Through Start of Semester

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Once again, delays to students’ financial aid packages during the pandemic have left some worried whether they can afford to attend this year. 

Those affected by financial aid delays have flocked online to Facebook and Reddit to voice their concerns and crowdsource answers. Many students in these forums relayed the same sentiment in early August: They have yet to be notified about their financial aid awards, while the Bursar office asks for the school year’s first tuition payment. The University urges patience while the financial aid office recalculates aid packages, but many students say they are growing frustrated with the uncertainty.

“The Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment is working diligently to notify students who are still awaiting the results of their 2021-22 financial aid application,” the financial aid office website reads. “This includes collaborating with the Bursar’s Office to make sure impacted students are not held responsible for August finance charges. We acknowledge the additional stress this is causing and appreciate your patience.”

Vanessa Arriaza ’23 was recently classified in her Student Center as a “missing student” — meaning that due to late fees on a Bursar bill she could not afford, she was temporarily withdrawn from the University and barred from class add/drop. 

Arriaza said she was guaranteed aid and had submitted her aid paperwork on time. However, due to processing delays, she still faced on-campus and class restrictions. She reported that her missing status was removed and her late fees were cleared only after waiting an hour and 30 minutes on hold for the financial aid office to complete the task manually.

Many who rely on aid to attend the University are unsure whether to pay the higher-than-normal bill or wait and risk the consequences. Students like Arriaza cannot afford to pay the bill, up to $20,000, and get refunded later. 

As the semester approaches, some students are petitioning the aid delays. An anonymous student on Reddit sent a petition with about 50 signatures as of Aug. 18 to the Office of Financial Aid and administration, expressing their frustrations with the financial aid office.

“Students have encountered long wait times trying to get in contact with financial aid officers, constantly shifting deadlines, and inconsistent information from the Financial Aid department,” the petition reads. “Without the knowledge of what aid will look like this coming academic year, many of the students who greatly rely on financial aid are having to deal with stress and uncertainty into how much they need to cover their expenses.”

The petition further details concerns including the possibility that students who rely on aid for housing and food could be disproportionately impacted. It notes repeated widespread financial delays, and asks the administration to address the student body regarding financial aid delays, expedite financial aid packages, investigate the underlying causes of these issues this year and publicize their findings.

Vice Provost for Enrollment Jonathan Burdick responded in an email to the anonymous student, posted to Reddit on Aug. 13, writing that the offices are flooded with more work than usual because they are recalculating aid packages to accommodate unprecedented financial circumstances caused by the pandemic. 

Burdick wrote that, due to the influx of work, many packages may not be sent out until September. The Office of Financial Aid did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. 

A response by the Office of Financial Aid was posted to social media alongside Burdick’s statement. The email reassured that students will receive estimates of their aid by Aug. 13 that can be found in their Student Center. The Office of Financial Aid wrote that the Bursar’s office will waive the charges seen on bills with pending aid offers. 

But until the packages are finalized, the aid situation continues to cause confusion. 

Caroline Doglio ’22 was the last of her friends to receive her financial aid. Before receiving her aid this week, she waited hours to speak to financial aid representatives on the phone and said the aid office did not respond to her emails.

“Financial aid is an integral part of the University and should be working properly,” Doglio added. 

Financial aid delays and insufficient aid can have lasting repercussions, delaying students graduation by making attendance unaffordable. 

Tilda Wilson ’21, who is also a Sun graphic designer, said she was supposed to graduate last spring — but on her way to Ithaca from her home state of Utah before the spring 2021 semester, she was notified that her aid was cut in half from what she received the previous year. 

Wilson said her cost of tuition doubled and she was forced to take a semester off because of it. Looking at this year’s estimate, Wilson said her tuition stayed doubled.

“I might not have gone here if I had known my financial aid was going to shift so drastically … I understand they’re doing their best and they are stressed too,” Wilson said. “It’s just really frustrating.” 

In the same email posted in response to the petition, Burdick said that under Kevin Jensen –– the new director in the Office of Financial Aid who started the job a month ago –– will conduct a survey to collect the comments and concerns about financial aid that will then be publicized. 

Until then, the community continues to wait, fingers crossed or pointed at the Cornell administration to solve these problems soon.