Healy Hall at Georgetown University.
Students at Georgetown University are reeling after the university released financial aid packages on Friday, as some discovered that their assistance would be significantly reduced for the fall semester. Nearly 1,000 students, alumni, and faculty signed a petition as of Aug. 4 calling for the university to reevaluate the packages already released and those that are pending.
"Georgetown University, a prestigious university which claims to hold Jesuit values, among them cura personalis, or care for the whole person, and which claims to be need-blind and committed to meeting demonstrated need, failed on both these accounts and screwed over students in the midst of a pandemic that disproportionately affects young people from low income families," writes biology student Olivia Gadson in an emailed statement to DCist. "Georgetown must answer for their decisions."
Gadson describes herself as a Black, first-generation student from a single-parent household, and says the recent decisions have added to the list of uncertainties low-income students like her are facing during the pandemic.
"This situation illustrates an important struggle that many students are facing right now across the country. Universities are lowering aid when students have increased need," says Gadson.
In general, D.C.-area students are concerned about their financial futures as the federal government weighs whether to extend student loan payment deferrals next month. (D.C. ranks the highest highest in the nation for average debt, at $55,882 as of December 2019, per credit report agency Experian.)
The Hoya, Georgetown's student paper, first reported on the outrage students expressed as the school's financial aid award packages were released just three workdays before the deadline to accept them, and three weeks before the start of virtual classes.
The student association says that some students are paying more to stay home than they did to live on campus, with their family contributions increasing nearly seven-fold. "There are students whose scholarship awards have decreased by over $15,000 since last year," the association wrote in its letter to university officials.
Some students say they are wrestling with the possibility of not being able to enroll at Georgetown at all if they can't come up with the necessary funds.
"I'm working 3 jobs currently trying to help make ends meet during this pandemic while my mom was on unemployment leave," student Kimberly Nguyen wrote in an email to the Hoya. "I pay for my own schooling, taking out loans to be able to attend this institution. This year, my expected family responsibility on [the university's student portal] states a 9K increase from the year prior. How does Georgetown expect me to pay this difference?"
On July 27, Georgetown University joined a handful of local universities that scaled back plans to host a mix of in-person and online classes, opting to start the semester with online courses only. While some students will be welcomed back for select activities — such as biomedical research — others have been left without clear housing in the fall, Gadson says.
Georgetown is reviewing student-reported housing statuses and adjusting housing budgets for students who are not able to live rent-free with parents or guardians, says Meghan Dubyak, a spokesperson for the university. Dubyak says Aug. 5 is not the final deadline to accept the packages and that school officials will be actively reviewing award appeals throughout the semester. (The university's financial aid page says the office will begin reviewing reports of changed 2020 income at the end of the fall semester.)
"Georgetown has invested a record $230 million toward financial aid and scholarships this fiscal year ($130-$140 million of which goes to undergraduates)," Dubyak tells DCist in an email. "Our commitment to financial aid remains strong. During this unprecedented pandemic and recession, we will continue to aid all students needing financial assistance."
A student's financial aid package is determined by subtracting their expected family contribution — the cost a student and their family can expect to pay — from their total cost of attendance. Dubyak says July 31 aid packages reflected a lower cost of attendance, since most students won't be traveling to campus, and the university reduced tuition by 10%, which amounts to about $2,900. (At first, the tuition cut only applied to students returning to campus, but the university extended it to all undergraduates on July 29.)
Dubyak says the estimated family contribution only changes if a family's circumstances change — changes in income, expenses, assets, and especially the number of family members enrolled in college are all factored in. But some students say the tuition reduction is simply not enough when weighed against the expected family contributions.
The petition, which requested more transparency and a systematic overhaul of the financial aid calculations, included anonymous testimonies.
"If I can't win some random outside scholarships in the coming weeks, Georgetown University is now officially beyond what my family's financial means can pay for," reads one testimony from a student in the class of 2022. "This is an unacceptable slap in the face to students like me and makes it alarmingly clear who Georgetown values within its student body. The fact that it will, quite literally, cost more for me to stay at home (for the safety of our entire campus community) than any year I've physically attended Georgetown's campus is disheartening."