Campus, News

Students, staff discuss stress of financial aid in open discussion

Dev Blair (CFA ‘19) addresses the difficulties of poor students studying at private universities at the first of two #PoorAtAPrivateUniversity talks at the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground Monday afternoon. PHOTO BY SHANE FU/ DAILY FREE PRESS CONTRIBUTOR
Dev Blair (CFA ‘19) addresses the difficulties of poor students studying at private universities at the first of two #PoorAtAPrivateUniversity talks at the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground Monday afternoon. PHOTO BY SHANE FU/ DAILY FREE PRESS CONTRIBUTOR

“I have workshops, and only three students came,” Christina Coviello, a senior assistant director at the Financial Assistance office, said while sitting with approximately 15 Boston University students and staff Monday afternoon.

Together, they tried to brainstorm ways to improve the financial aid experience for BU students. The open discussion, organized by the College of Fine Arts sophomore Dev Blair and junior Pamela Muñoz in the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground, drew staff members from various departments like the BU Financial Assistance and the Student Employment offices.

The CFA students are the creators behind the #PoorAtAPrivateUniversity Facebook group, which serves as a space for students from a lower-income background to share their stories and help others navigate financial aid at BU, The Daily Free Press reported Sept. 8.

Coviello said she started the Smart Money 101 initiative, which aims to provide students with online tools, information and other resources to promote effective money management. Unfortunately, Coviello said, Smart Money 101’s Twitter account only has about 100 followers.

“I struggle with getting the message out,” she said, and that seems to be the universal feeling shared by staff at the BU Financial Assistance office. Members of the office said they offer plenty of workshops and online resources, but students aren’t responding well to what they have to offer.

Director of Financial Assistance Julie Wickstrom said she wants the discussions to help form a relationship between her office and the students.

“Something is still missing. I would love for anyone interested to be our sounding board for communication,” Wickstrom said during the talk.

During the discussion, students did just that — they proposed ideas for better communication, such a finance-centric “Weeks of Welcome” panel, a new financial aid Facebook page and an interactive online program similar to the mandatory AlcoholEdu.

“So much of our learning is game-ified,” Blair said. “It puts us in a situation where we have to think through these things on our own.”

Blair said an interactive game or a conversational panel would put financial language into digestible terms that students could understand.

“The students who need financial aid don’t always have the financial literacy to look at terms that don’t have much meaning,” Blair said. “It’s easy to get lost in these concepts that are fairly new.”

David Janey, an associate director in the BU Financial Assistance office, responded to Blair and said that the further they veer from technical language, the more the office risks inaccuracy.

“It’s a balancing act,” Janey said. “We have to simultaneously communicate with you and your parents. We’re on two frequencies. It’s not an excuse, but it’s a challenge.”

Students also brought up issues with housing, meal plans and other costs of living. Staff said a collaboration with other departments at BU would be a fruitful next step.

“This issue is broader than financial aid,” Wickstrom said. “It’s about everything.”

Toward the end of the meeting, students said that although the frustration with financial aid negatively impacted their experiences at BU, some of them were able to find ways to get by.

Anais Azul, a senior in CFA, said she lives in the Harriet E. Richards Cooperative House to deal with the rise in tuition and the stress of financial aid.

She said more students should take advantage of resources like the HER House, and said she hates seeing open rooms in the house, which was founded in 1928 to reduce the cost of room and board.

“We have spots in our house,” Azul said. “It’s a resource that’s not talked about enough.”

Allison Vergel, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, said although her parents’ income dropped by approximately $40,000, she refuses to give up on her education at BU.

“Am I going to sacrifice my dreams just because I can’t afford it?” she said. “I’ve been waiting to go to this school since I was 11.”

The conversation was the first of two planned events, the second of which will be held Friday evening at the HTC.

2 Comments

  1. Financial Aid has been a nightmare for my daughter. She’s navigated the BU Financial System on her own. She’s graduating early, not by choice but because all she thinks about is her outstanding debt everyday.
    She like Anais, lives in the HER House. She found it on her own, not with the any assistance from the Financial Aid Office. Every type of Aid she receives, she’s found herself.
    What she’s heard from the Financial Aid Office, maybe you should take time off and save up to pay tuition. And she heard this more than once.
    Nothing like a University making a EXCELLENT student feel worthless.
    At orientation I’d hear people say they were a single parent, of their only child attending BU. I never mentioned I was in the same situation, except I’m the parent of twins. Who are both attending college. And I’d hear of female students who received more aid because of their major (mostly science fields). My daughter is in SED, working hard to become an Educator. But, it seems as if that’s not as important as becoming an Engineer.
    Perhaps her having to navigate BU’s Financial Aid muddy waters, has made her stronger. But, I also know it’s made her bitter and opened her eyes to what large institutions are all about. She can add that to her resume, ‘surviver’. She’s learned she’s stronger than she ever knew and graduate with a degree from a University that she thought so highly of at one time. Understanding now, that the bright lights are really smoke and mirrors.

    *I emailed this article to my daughter, but I’m sure she’s seen it (I’m usually a day late, dollar short on the articles I share with her). I’m thinking if she didn’t attend this meeting discussed in the article, it might be because she’s student teaching this semester, taking class in the evenings and working on nights she doesn’t have class.
    Perhaps Samantha, you might catch up with some of the HER House women. They all seem to have had the same experience when dealing with BU’s Financial Aid Office. Or perhaps BU’s Financial Aid Office should get out into the students community if they’re truly looking for ideas to better serve students.

  2. Like Allison, my daughter dreamed of attending Boston University since she was a young girl. My wife and I are both alums. We are by no means rich, but we certainly are not poor. I would describe ourselves as upper middle class. Yet, we were unable to afford to send our daughter to our alma mater. My daughter graduated 1st in her class of more than 400 students. Though BU did not recognize her academic success with a scholarship, they did provide us with a significant financial aid package. Unfortunately, it was not enough. To attend BU, my daughter would have had to borrow $27,000. In addition, my wife and I would need to borrow close to $50,000. As we approach retirement and as we have two other children still to attend college, we put our BU finance degrees to use and helped my daughter understand the enormity of both she and us taking on such significant debt. In the end, she chose to attend a state school and if all goes as planned, she will take on just a little debt, but we will take on none, thus affording us the opportunity to help pay hers off. I was disappointed in BU on many fronts in the financial aid process. First, we appealed and asked BU to meet the financial aid package offered by a fellow Patriot League college and our appeal was denied. Because we were alums, I appealed directly to the BU President for additional financial assistance. He was generous enough to grant my daughter a $5,000 annual scholarship from special funds accessible only to him. A few days later, the financial aid office took away my daughter’s $3,000 annual work study. A week later, I received an email from the alumni office touting how the school had just surpassed the billion dollar mark in their recent fundraising effort and because they had achieved this goal in such a short period of time, now they were aiming for $1.5 billion. As you can imagine, we were devastated. In addition, my daughter earned several private financial scholarships as a result of her academic success. The BU financial aid office told us that the financial offer they provided to us would be lowered by these scholarships. She had worked so hard, and now it appeared to her that all that work was for naught. I am happy to report that she is extremely happy at the college she chose. It is not the school she had hoped to attend, but she is making the most of every opportunity afforded to her. I believe that BU has missed out on a student that would have represented our alma mater well. I also believe that our legacy at BU will end after just one generation.