Financial aid office hopes to educate students

September 15, 2017

$65,928. That’s the number that landed Brandeis the 23rd slot in Business Insider’s 2017 list of “The Most Expensive Colleges in America.” To many families, that amount is not only nerve-wracking, but completely unattainable.

Which brings us to the tedious and confusing forms students fill out in the midst of the college application process: the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile from the College Board. These forms estimate the amount families can contribute towards tuition using a mix of past earnings, current earnings and future loans, but they may result in very different numbers.

“The federal calculation is very simplistic,” said Sherri Avery, Brandeis’s Director of Financial Aid. “It doesn’t look at home equity, it doesn’t dig into people’s businesses, and it ignores different types of income families may have. It’s very vanilla.”

In most cases, Brandeis relies on the CSS calculated estimate for each student’s need. Since there is often a substantial gap between what federal funding the government offers and what the CSS estimates, Brandeis fills the need with additional scholarship money from the school’s endowment or institutional budget.

“There probably is not a single person who agrees with what the [federal] formula says they can pay,” Avery said. “The formula is less about how much they think your family can write a check for and more about a systematic way to compare families in similar situations.”

Brandeis is able to meet this “estimated need” of 95 percent of students, according to the College Board. Additionally, the university’s financial aid website states that Brandeis meets 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need for international admitted students.

When the government cancels federal loan programs, Brandeis must replace what those programs provide. This applies to the Perkins Loan, a federal loan program available to high-need students, now in its final year. These types of programs must be reapproved by Congress, and so if lawmakers do not reach a deal the program will expire.

Perkins has allowed students to borrow up to $5,500 a year—money which Brandeis now must provide, without help from federal funding.

According to Avery, 52 percent of Brandeis students have federally funded financial aid, though more may have declined loans. The most common loan is the Stafford Loan, which can either be subsidized or unsubsidized. A subsidized loan means while the student is in college, the federal government pays the interest, while they must begin paying accrued interest immediately on unsubsidized loans.

Still these federal loans do not come close to covering the pull cost of tuition. The Federal Pell grant, the largest federal grant, is only $5,900.

The financial aid department is still responsible for much of what makes it possible for students to attend. Tuition continues to climb from year to year, while the federal grants have stayed the same amount, barely adjusting for inflation and placing even more of the burden on universities and families.

In the 2016 presidential election, finding solutions to the unaffordability of universities was a center of the Democratic candidates’ campaigns. It is yet unclear how the loan systems will change.

“It’s anyone’s guess at this point as to what is going to happen,” Avery said. “One of the things they conjecturing about is that the two types of Stafford Loans won’t exist anymore, and they would take away the subsidized loan. I don’t see them greatly expanding the grants, and in this political climate, I’m not expecting anything good.”

With federal funds becoming less effective in times of inflation and rising tuition, it is more important than ever students speak up for their education rights. Brandeis tuition consistently rises several percent each year.

“Students should advocate as much as possible with their Senators or wherever they possibly can for more federal funds for their education, because it certainly is not keeping up with the economy,” Avery said. “It’s difficult out there for parents and students.”

Student Financial Services works with students and families to manage the enormous costs of college. They also coordinate on-campus student employment and maintain a list of on- and off-campus job opportunities on their website.

To encourage financial literacy amongst Brandeis students, the financial aid department is launching Salt (named for an old universal currency which unfortunately cannot be used in exchange for tuition), a program offered through American Student Assistance which helps students learn about budgeting, loan-repayment, credit scores and common pitfalls for college students. On their website, the program states, “Salt…features an easy online platform and one-on-one counseling to help you plan for, pay for, and repay the cost of a degree.” The literacy program will begin at Brandeis within the next month.

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