Following vacancies and financial aid package delays, Cornell’s Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment has begun a four year project to restructure and rebuild its operations.
Recently, FASE has had numerous vacant positions — 16 of the 33 total paid positions were vacant at one point in 2019 — according to Executive Director of Financial Aid Kevin Jensen. The lack of staff contributed heavily to issues like delayed reviews and distribution of aid packages to students in 2021.
FASE is making filling its vacancies one of its primary goals, a process which has also given the office an opportunity to rethink their organization and operations, changing office culture and operations as new staff enter.
Katrina Cassell ’23 participated in the September protests — which followed similar protests in Oct. 2020 — condemning delays in aid distribution outside of Day Hall. She said that the problems students faced in 2021 that sparked the protest were bigger than staffing.
“The problems that students were dealing with last semester stemmed not just from the understaffed nature of the office, but also from the general lack of patience, compassion, or support that students received, both in dialogue with financial aid officers and in University policies,” Cassell said.
FASE is also working to improve its business processes, modify the technology that students use to communicate with the office and improve partnerships with other existing student support offices on campus. Key partnerships in this effort include one between the registrar and Vice Provost of Enrollment Jonathan Burdick.
“I’m glad to reinforce Vice Provost Burdick in his student-centered vision and for the opportunity to make a difference for Cornell students,” Jensen said. “Ultimately, as the executive director, I am responsible for the performance of the FASE team, so I’m again thankful that leadership supports the recommendations I’ve made thus far and many more to come.”
In October, Student Assembly debates highlighted extended delays in the delivery of financial aid packages to students. Withheld aid caused stress as well as delays in hiring for student campus jobs because the system at the time did not allow students to be hired as student employees if their aid package was under review.
Like Cassell, other students are supportive of the changes coming to FASE, but believe more is required to prevent financial aid issues going forward, especially given the University’s current $5 billion “To Do the Greatest Good” fundraising campaign.
“While we’re glad to hear that the university is taking measures to remedy the situation, that change must include a hold on tuition increases, increased financial aid and more resources for low-income and first generation students, for whom managing financial aid packages is especially hard,” Cassell said.
Jensen, who entered his current role at the University in July 2021, said he agrees that it is vital to identify the underlying issues with financial aid on campus. Jensen is dedicated to finding solutions to these problems and is proud of the work his team is doing to reform the office but noted that making so many changes successfully won’t be easy.
“As it turns out, the answers reflect the incredible complexity that inherently exists within a world-class University like Cornell,” Jensen said. “I’m pleased that we are building positive momentum, although we have much work to do… We know students and families are counting on us. That motivates us and we are eager to deliver.”