The Office of Financial Aid has delivered aid on time this fall to students and their families, granting students a sense of relief about financial aid concerns for the fall semester.
After student protests, Student Assembly resolutions calling for change, and a class action lawsuit, the Office of Financial Aid began a process of restructuring last spring. This process has continued this fall, with the office continuing to fill vacancies, update certain roles and invest in new technology to improve student experiences.
“This year and every year, we listen, learn and make continuous efforts to improve,” said Kevin Jensen, executive director of financial aid. According to Jensen, the office of financial aid is currently focused on improving service for students in the most recent 2023-24 aid application cycle, which began Oct. 1.
During spring and summer 2022, the office has been able to recruit and hire staff to fill previously vacant positions. Vacancies were one of the challenges faced by the office, leading to delayed reviews and distribution of aid packages.
The office also has plans in progress to add positions within the office and update business processes and technology where possible.
“We anticipate filling new roles later this fall which will further expand our availability to students in the spring,” Jensen said. “We are simultaneously focused on improving key business processes and technology tools which will enhance our ability to provide timely services.”
While aid has been delivered on time, there are other issues for students that have still not been addressed or solved by the office of financial aid.
“The FASE office seemingly does not have the capacity or bandwidth to address the basic needs of all of the student body and commonly resorts to recommending FGLI [first-generation, low-income] students to take out loans,” said Amisha Chowdhury ’23, president of CU Student Advocate and president of the First Generation Student Union.
The Cornell Student Assembly Office of the Student Advocate has been focused on helping students navigate financial aid issues and questions in the past, like completing the FAFSA application or filing their taxes. Chowdhury said that the office should expand to offer these services to students in need.
Their office has done a tax filing workshop in the past to help student workers complete their required tax forms. They used free Tompkins county specific resources after the financial aid office was unable to provide free tax filing help for students.
Delilah Hernandez ’22 was the student advocate of the Student Assembly last year and was in regular communication with the office of financial aid to ensure that proper resources were provided before encouraging students to take out loans. She is a leader in the Basic Needs Coalition, a low-income student group on campus that provides access to different financial resources.
Like Chowdhury, she believes the University is not connecting students with the resources they need.
“It’s a lengthy process, but through all of the initiatives that have been created, like the Basic Needs Coalition, students are signaling that campus-wide support in connecting students to the appropriate services whether on or off-campus are vital in ensuring accessibility of resources,” Hernandez said. “For now, it’s really the Basic Needs Coalition, housed by the Office of Student Advocate that is streamlining this connection to essential resources for students.”
Hernandez also worked to communicate with the financial aid office to connect students to specific SNAP/EBT and Medicaid workshops. She reported that the office seemed generally open to connecting students to these resources, but is unsure of how this has continued this past year.
There are also numerous opportunities for student relief that both Chowdhury and Hernandez have shared with students: Emergency grants or federal-work study for students receiving SNAP benefits. These opportunities are not always shared with students by the office of financial aid, even though it can prevent students from taking out a loan.
“The Financial aid office should be trained and equipped to share out on and off campus financial resources available to students,” Chowdhury said. “They should do a better job of making emergency funding resources more visible to students.”
The office has a goal of listening, learning, and making continuous efforts to improve, Jensen stated in an email to The Sun. As the office continues to restructure, fill vacancies and update technological systems, students wait.