Student Union seeks financial aid ‘horror stories’

January 18, 2019

Student Union President Hannah Brown circulated a Google form in Brandeis Facebook groups earlier this month which invited students to share bad experiences or “horror stories” with financial aid at Brandeis.

The form—which can be submitted anonymously or with identifying information—is part of a larger effort by the Student Union to address student concerns with financial aid.

“A lot of students have issues with financial aid here at Brandeis,” Brown told The Brandeis Hoot, “It’s hard to deny the problem and it really calls for action.”

“Part of the problem, I think, is what the university defines full need as,” she said. “There really is a gap between the calculated full need of aid and the actual living experience of need.” She said that financial aid at Brandeis will be an issue that the Union will explore through research and surveys throughout the semester.

Brown pointed to the final question on the Google form—which asks respondents if they would be “interested in sitting on a panel of students to share [their] story with the Board of Trustees”—as the most important.

She told The Hoot that this question aims to gather students “with powerful stories that really can make a difference” to talk on a panel with a group of Trustees at the end of the month.

Brown has received about 20 responses to the survey so far, she told The Hoot, with several respondents stating they would be willing to participate in the panel.

“I would say there were some really, really sad stories where there is a profound lack of trust or a feeling like the institution doesn’t care,” she said of the responses received thus far.

“Part of the challenge is getting people to share their stories in person, which is really difficult because a lot of that is going to be highly emotional,” she said.

Brown noted that bringing issues directly to the Board of Trustees has brought results on other student issues in the past. “It was largely the students coming to the Board of Trustees which ended up increasing the staff for the counseling center, it was students that made changes on divestment policy,” she said. “A lot of the decisions are made when students get to speak to the Board.”

The impacts of financial aid can affect student life in multiple ways, according to Brown. “Taking on extra jobs, that’s a difference between calculated need and real need,” she said, noting that taking on too many jobs could leave students with less time for school work and club activities.

She said that financial aid can affect student food security when students move off campus and end up “facing food insecurity because they wanted to save money.” She also noted that on-campus students could face similar insecurity if they choose cheaper and smaller meal plans to save money.

Students have expressed discontent with financial aid at Brandeis in the past. A Student Financial Survey conducted in 2015 reported “discontent and confusion with the financial aid process,” according to a Hoot article published in October of 2015.

According to a Hoot article, 55.8 percent of respondents to the 2015 survey receive need-based financial aid, and 70.8 percent anticipate graduating with debt. The survey received 769 valid responses, accounting for about one-fifth of the student body at the time.

According to the Brandeis website, “47 percent of admitted students to the Class of 2021 received need-based financial assistance.”

The Student Union plans to hold a campus conversation on financial aid and affordability of campus later in the semester.

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