UCSD Reduces Student Financial Aid after Changing Housing Statuses

CampusNews

A screenshot of the email from the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office
Kristina Stahl / The Triton

Written by:

In early August, the UC San Diego Financial Aid and Scholarships Office changed the housing statuses of all students listed as dependents to Living with Parent, even as the university moved forward with it’s Return to Learn program. This change reduced the amount of aid students were to receive for Fall Quarter 2020. Many students have had difficulty correcting their housing status, and report that communication about this change was inconsistent. 

Students’ housing statuses were changed even if their FAFSA or California Dream Act applications indicated they were Living Off Campus (without parents) or Living On Campus. To change their housing status and recover their full financial aid package, students are now required to email Financial Aid stating their correct housing status and provide supporting documentation, such as a copy of their lease.

Third-year undergraduate student Thuy Hoang received an email from the Financial Aid Office notifying her of changes to her housing status on August 4. 

“I thought that everybody had gotten that email,” said Hoang.

However, through Twitter, Hoang found that other students had not received the same notification. On August 5, a student tweeted, “I just spoke with financial aid and they said they’ll be assuming ALL students will be living at home (meaning your aid packages will be significantly reduced) and will NOT notify students to send it lease agreements.”

Financial Aid Director Vonda Garcia did not respond to the claim that the Financial Aid Office initially decided not to notify students that they would need to send in proof of lease to restore their full financial aid package.

“All students were notified via UC San Diego email accounts,” wrote Garcia in an email to The Triton. “Some emails were delayed due to a server issue.”

Though Garcia wrote that the Financial Aid office reads and replies to all emails, third-year undergraduate student Xenia Martinez says that has not been her experience.

“I sent [Financial Aid] about three or four emails with actual proof of my lease saying that I’m living off campus,” said Martinez. “And they’re continually sending me more emails asking me for the same lease, telling me that they placed my financial aid as ‘living with my parents,’ and they even already billed me.”

Garcia wrote that she is not aware of students being asked to continually resubmit proof of living off campus.

With her housing status listed as Living with Parent, an entire grant was removed from Martinez’ financial aid package. As she waits for a response from Financial Aid on whether her financial aid package can be recovered, Martinez says she feels worried.

“I get stressed out because I’m paying my own tuition. I’m figuring out my rent,” said Martinez. “So I’m just like, ‘What am I doing? Am I going to be okay for the year? Should I pick up an extra job?’ Like, what do I need to work out?”

Hoang dealt with the same anxiety as she waited several days for a response from Financial Aid after sending in her lease.

“If they couldn’t change it [my housing status] to ‘Off Campus,’ I was really worried about how to get rent paid,” said Hoang. “The reason why I’m living off campus is because my own housing situation at home family-wise is not good as well. So if I didn’t have rent to pay, I’d be homeless at that point.”

According to Garcia, the Financial Aid Office answers emails on a daily basis, though during peak times, it may take several days for students to receive responses.

Hoang, however, said it has taken over two weeks for her to get a response to a question. Third-year undergraduate student Arley Bibiano also experienced unresponsiveness from Financial Aid.

“A lot of times, I’ve had to go to Financial Aid four times to fix one problem,” said Bibiano.

According to Hoang, long response times cause anxiety for students who are on time crunches for scholarships and other deadlines. Bibiano says his stress surrounding financial aid is exacerbated by his parents being undocumented.  

“I depend on information from my parents [to get financial aid], so putting them at risk of anything that threatens them being in this country, it makes me a bit anxious,“ said Bibiano.

Martinez and Hoang were frustrated that the Financial Aid Office changed students’ housing status without prior warning.

”The fact that Financial Aid didn’t really give us any communication or any information about that is quite upsetting,” said Hoang. “It makes a lot of the students question, ‘Does the university actually care about us?’”

Bibiano would like to see a change in the way Financial Aid communicates with students.

“If they [the Financial Aid Office] could have more direct communication with their students, I feel like they would be more helpful in making this process less anxious for students who are maybe dealing with financial insecurity and depend on financial aid,” said Bibiano.

The deadline to submit documentation for Fall Quarter financial aid adjustments is October 16, though Financial Aid recommends submitting documentation as soon as possible and prior to the Fall fee deadline to ensure students’ financial aid accurately reflects their housing status.

Shagun Khare is a Staff Writer for The Triton. You can follow her here.