Students express frustrations at financial aid forum
University Financial Aid staff responded to students’ concerns about high expenses and aid distribution.
Ten students attended an open forum discussion on financial aid last Wednesday to discuss the annual tuition increase, fundraising methods and why the school is so expensive. The event, part of the Campus Conversations initiative, was held in the Shapiro Campus Center’s Multi-Purpose Room.
Student Union President Hannah Brown ’19 introduced the event, which she said was “meant to be a productive conversation for everyone here.” Answering questions on behalf of the University were Assistant Vice President of Student Financial Services Sherry Avery, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Sam Solomon and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky. Dean of Students Jamele Adams mediated the discussion and read viewer-submitted questions from his phone.
Regarding merit-based scholarships for current Brandeis students, Avery said that although the administration has sent several emails advertising the Giumette Academic Award, a merit-based scholarship for college sophomores, fewer students apply for it than actually qualify for its 3.7 grade point average requirement. “I’m always surprised that more students don’t apply,” Avery said.Brown suggested that since most students get a lot of emails, it’s easy for one email to get lost in their inboxes. She recommended using more physical advertising like posters to attract attention. Attendee Emily McGovern ’21 added that word of mouth can be an effective way to get students informed.
McGovern asked about how financial independence is accounted for in the cost of college, noting that her teammate on the swim team is part of a family that could afford to pay for her education, but instead her parents decided not to, forcing her to find other ways to pay for college. McGovern asked if the University is making sure to “take into account” students who might not be relying on their parents to pay for college.
Avery responded that “being independent is kind of a tricky thing,” complicated by factors such as age and the student’s tax dependency status. To be considered financially independent when applying for federal student loans, students under the age of 25 must either be married, a veteran or an active duty member of the U.S. armed forces, be an orphan or have dependents other than a spouse, according to an article on the Federal Student Aid website.
Avery clarified that Brandeis’ financial support works by evaluating the family’s “ability to pay, not willingness to pay.” She added that if willingness to pay was considered for all students, “We would probably cover the full cost [of a lot of students’ educations].”
Dean Adams, reading from his phone, asked the group to explain the actual reason behind the annual tuition increases via a question submitted online. Solomon responded that about 60 percent of the increase goes to salaries and benefits for the faculty and staff. “We feel… that it’s important to give raises to the staff every year because they’re working hard, and because… the cost of living goes up,” he said. Other contributing factors include the increasing cost of library acquisitions, he explained, along with inflation and utilities.
Brown asked why Brandeis is so expensive compared to other elite schools.The current total cost of tuition and fees is $56,970 for the upcoming academic year, compared to $55,040 for the 2018–2019 academic year, per the University’s respective tuition websites. Solomon said a number of factors contribute, including economies of scale, the University’s large research budget and the cost of PhD programs.
Economies of scale refers to the reduction in costs to produce goods as the amount of goods produced increases. For example, if a truck uses a liter of gas to transport a gallon of milk from the dairy farm to the supermarket, that same truck would use less fuel per gallon of milk if it were transporting 100 gallons. Likewise, because Brandeis has a smaller student body than many other research universities, the cost of attendance per student is higher than at other institutions.
Solomon also noted that scientific research is comparatively more expensive than liberal arts research due to the expensive lab equipment and materials needed. He further noted that PhD programs cost the University a lot of money, but that they enable the University to cultivate its academic reputation. He noted that there are a few ways to make Brandeis less expensive: to increase the size of the student body, which the administration believes would go against the ideals of the school; to cut the number and scope of programs, which the administration also does not believe would be productive; or to increase the amount of money the University raises.
Solomon explained that when University President Ron Liebowitz came to Brandeis, he found that Institutional Advancement — the administrative branch in charge of raising money from alumni and donors — was in a state of “atrophy.” His administration has since been working on enhancing “front-line” fundraising, or more direct requests for money from current and past students.
Near the end of the conversation, three students, Chari Calloway ’21, Janikah Brice ’20 and Zoë Fort ’21, joined the discussion to ask about how the University pursues funding for students of color and the possibility of recognizing Greek organizations that could support students of color financially and socially. Solomon responded that the University is pursuing fundraising from donors that allow the University to be as flexible as possible how it chooses to allocate the donations, and said that neither he nor the other members of the administration at the forum were the best people to ask about Greek organizations.