The University of Chicago and its peer universities act remarkably like university freshmen--one expects independence, and gets instead peer pressure. We cling to early action admissions and Yale decides to join us, but other institutions balk if Harvard, Stanford and their ilk won't join the table. Our independence on this matter has been a point of pride, and the University likes to pride itself on its mulishness in similar affairs. Yet we're just as status-conscious as the first-year with a Burberry scarf, and sometimes our propensity to follow as well as lead benefits the student body, as the school's decision to improve the financial aid department has shown.
Improving financial aid does not mean, yet, a commitment to greatly bulk up financial aid packages; less than 40 percent of the class of 2006 receives financial aid, 10 percent less than Harvard and Princeton. The announcement is a smaller step: a promise to make information and feedback more accessible. For example, the school's Web site currently has all of its financial aid information under prospective student sites, a bad-faith gesture to current students. The financial aid department plans to rectify this, as well as move aid renewal forms online. In addition, they plan to implement standard written evaluation forms like those used for academic advisors.
With tuition rising faster than inflation, anything promised that's not money for increased aid may disappoint students. Better communication, however, is a necessary step towards better aid. The department has suffered recently from a clear disconnection from the student body. Enrolled students have found it less accessible than it was when they were applicants. By better immersing itself in student opinion, the department will, hopefully, be faster to respond to inefficiencies and inequities in financial aid.
The University has a lot of work to do in improving student aid, and these are tough times to do it. In this case, however, a bit of peer envy can only push our school in a healthier direction. Before leading, we must catch up, and in doing so pay close attention to the schools around us.