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SU survey stresses importance of financial aid

By Emily Sorkin Smith

Section: News

September 25, 2015

This week, the Student Union sent out a survey to the student body to gather data about students’ use of financial aid and its impact on all aspects of their daily life, both at Brandeis and after graduation. They intend to share their findings with the Board of Trustees, connecting them more to the needs of students in hopes that they can make more informed financial decisions. The survey has been sent to students via an email written by Student Representatives to the Board of Trustees Grady Ward ’16 and Emily Conrad ’17.

In an email to The Brandeis Hoot, Ward expressed his desire to give the Board of Trustees a more complex and accurate sense of how students use their financial aid money and how it continues to affect them after graduating. Because the Board is limited in its ability to interact with students, “they tend to focus on the aggregate and quantifiable: financial aid statistics, retention percentages, alumni earnings, etc.,” Ward explained. Statistics alone cannot allow board members enough insight into the financial lives of students.

“We want to paint an accurate and representative picture of the non-quantifiable impacts of the marginal decisions that the board is tasked with making (such as raising tuition, accepting students in different proportions and fundraising for financial aid). We think that it is critical that Board Members simultaneously understand the reality in the numbers, and grasp the impact that those numbers represent,” Ward wrote.

Among these non-quantifiable factors are the potential career limitations graduates might experience because of their student loan debts. Some graduates, Ward argued, feel forced to pursue higher-paying jobs instead of ones oriented toward social justice or their passions because they need to pay off loans for their time at Brandeis. Financial aid can have a profound affect on students’ relationship with Brandeis and determine whether or not the institution, as Ward put it, “remains financially accessible to all students in the country.”

The anonymous survey, in addition to demographic questions, asked students about their experiences with the Office of Student Financial Services, how their opinions about Brandeis have changed because of their financial situation and how their post-graduation plans might have changed based on their financial situation. One question, answerable on a scale from 1-9, allows students to rate whether “Brandeis’ financial aid policies allow its students to pursue careers in social justice?”

The end of the survey includes a request for students to discuss their personal financial situation in anonymous, peer-conducted interviews. No questions on the survey are required, and any emails provided will be, according to the survey, completely disassociated from any survey responses.

According to the Undergraduate Admissions portion of the website, 54 percent of the class of 2019 received some form of need-based financial aid. The class of 2018 was offered a total of $9 million in grants, with the average amount of need-based award being $30,710. The university awards several merit scholarships and fellowships in addition to need-based aid.

Despite all the aid that Brandeis provides, many students have to take out loans and find the cost of a Brandeis education to be prohibitive. Collegefactual.com, a website that uses statistics to track student debt, shows that about 55 percent of incoming students take out loans, with an average of over 22,000 in debt after four years of school.

In 2013, Brandeis tuition became a topic of concern when former President Jehuda Reinharz received over $1 million for his part-time work despite spending cuts and tuition increases.

The board meeting at which the findings will be presented will take place on Monday, Oct. 26.

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