Financial Aid Crisis Lingers, College Aid Says It’s Understaffed

Students report late fees after bill due date came and went without award details.

By Greg Ross

Three weeks into the quarter—and well past due dates for tuition bills—many students are experiencing delays and difficulties in receiving their financial aid packages from the Office of College Aid. 

Nearly 100 students have signed an online complaint form that will be sent to University administrators. The form targets the Office of College Aid, which has experienced a reduction in staffing and is now being accused by students of inefficiency and a lack of transparency. 

The form, launched last week by second-year Trenton Crawford, seeks to address a “surge” of student complaints about the Office. 

“I wanted to gather students’ experiences and let the [University] know that low-income students aren’t at the disposal of the University, and that what the financial aid office is doing is wrong and is completely antithetical to their mission [of] having no barriers,” Crawford said. 

Second-year Alexis Wells received an e-mail over the summer that said she received a $3,500 work-study award for this academic year, which was verified by her financial aid statement. After visiting the Office this Monday, however, she was told that e-mail was a “mistake” and that she was only allocated work-study for the summer, leaving her without work-study for this year. 

While Wells managed to find alternative employment, she said, “Almost every single person I’ve talked to has had issues with the financial aid office.” 

By the time his tuition bill was due, second-year Calvin Chu had still not received his aid package. After calling the Office of College Aid, Chu was told to only pay what he paid last year. He was recently billed a $50 late fee because he was told he did not pay the full amount. 

“Fifty [dollars] in the grand scheme of 70,000 isn’t that bad,” said Chu. “It’s just more of an insult to injury.” The late fee remains on his account, despite repeated calls to the Office. 

For some students, however, a lack of financial aid has cost much more than $50. First-year Alexis Wolf matriculated on the assumption that she would receive the aid the University offered upon her admittance. But over the past several months, her aid package has been “cut down over time” for no apparent reason. 

Despite continual calls, emails, and visits to the Office of College Aid, Wolf is still stuck with a large and unexpected bill. The Office has not addressed her issue, leaving Wolf with no option but to take out loans. 

“I’m going to have to take out another loan if [the Office] doesn’t get back to me,” she said. “The reason why I picked this school is that it’s such a good school and they have this supposed No Barriers program where you don’t drown under tens of thousands of dollars of loan debt.” Wolf said she will have over $90,000 of loan debt this year alone if her financial aid dilemma is not solved. 

The Office of College Aid and Director Tina Baskin did not responded to The Maroon’s repeated requests for more information. 

A statement on the Office’s website says, “Recently, a number of College Aid staff departed the office for positions outside UChicago. This reduction in staffing, combined with training on a new system, led to unfortunate delays. We are currently hiring and training additional staff to be ready for Winter Quarter questions.” 

A new online payment system went live on August 1. In addition, the University has tightened its budget across administrative offices. While it is unclear exactly how these cuts have affected the Office of College Aid, students are certainly feeling the effects of the Office’s inefficiency. 

“[The Office] is definitely understaffed,” said Chu. “Occasionally when you do get through, you can clearly tell that the staff are faced with answering the same questions over and over again.” Sympathizing with the staff, Chu said, “You definitely don’t want to be at the wrath of an angry mom.” 

Wolf agreed, but added more: “I think it’s partially an understaffed problem and partially a priorities problem. Finance should be the very first thing [the University] should prioritize, because students literally cannot function if they cannot pay their bills.”