October 4, 2016

Fitting the Bill

It’s time the Office of College Aid give us all some answers.

According to the Office of College Aid’s (OCA) website, the 2016–2017 year at the University of Chicago costs a total of $71,559 for upperclassmen living on campus, $68,487 for those living off campus, and $61,434 for commuters. However you slice it, a degree from UChicago costs a lot of money. 

The Financial Aid office is a powerful bureaucratic arm of the University, doling out an annual $135 million to undergraduate and graduate students. With that power comes a great responsibility: to ensure that the best and brightest students can call the University of Chicago home, regardless of their families’ income levels. But beyond fulfilling its basic function, the office owes students who receive financial aid peace of mind.  

However, a week and a half into fall quarter, some students are still waiting to receive their financial aid packages. The circumstances vary from student to student, but many who submitted their materials both before and after the informal deadline of June 10 have been told to expect their packages by progressively later dates (some were told September 9, which got pushed to September 16, followed by September 23). The cause of this year’s delays and disorganization is unclear, leading some to suspect the University’s new online tuition payment system.  

Our peer institutions, most of which provide cut-and-dry deadline information on their websites, seem to have avoided similar problems. At Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton, applications are due in early May and decisions are released before July 1. Stanford, which also follows a quarter system, has a deadline of April 30. According to its financial aid website, award letters for on-time applicants are available beginning August 1. 

The OCA has not responded to undergraduates’ frustration and confusion with a systematic response, but instead responded to individual inquiries vaguely and inconsistently. It has a short notice on its website similar to the statement it sent to The Maroon via the University News Office, the latter of which says: “As in past years, College Aid continues to work through financial aid materials that were submitted over the summer. Awards will continue to be released throughout the first weeks of class.”  

This lack of clarity leaves The Maroon, and the rest of the student body, with a lot of unanswered questions, such as: Will students receiving their packages late be billed in full and refunded the value of their awards at a later date? The OCA repeatedly funneled our inquiries to the News Office, and when one of our reporters finally got through to College Aid, he was told “no comment.” The representative on the other line hung up on him when he asked how the office could possibly be unwilling to inform students how much they’ll be expected to pay. 

As the quarter ramps up and midterm season looms, the last thing UChicago students need is to be burdened by the specifics of their tuition payments. How can students who depend on the OCA trust that it will come through for them when it cannot, or will not, give them clear answers? The uncertainty that results from a lack of transparency is the most immediate concern here. The College owes its students a reliable financial aid program, but even more simply, it owes all of them an explanation of this year’s delays. 

The Maroon Editorial Board