Navigating Student Financial Services is a complicated task for any student. The forms can be confusing. Sometimes numbers just don’t add up the way you want them to, and it can be frustrating. And that’s just for the average (read: English-speaking) student. For the Latino community, it can be much harder.
Vice-chairwoman of the Latino Coalition Wendy De La Rosa says that in the Latino community, “there are language barriers — where your parents can’t help you fill out [your forms] — or there are education barriers, and it’s such an issue that [your parents] don’t want to talk about it.” To help resolve this issue, the LC is seeking to improve on a financial-aid workshop that was held for the first time in spring 2009.
“Last year, it was very informal. We sent out an e-mail telling people to come to this workshop with their questions and tax forms,” De La Rosa explained. Michael Light, a former employee of SFS, ran the workshop pro bono. Because of the one-on-one attention that students received, many were able to correct errors — ranging from incorrectly entering data to a lack of comprehensive understanding of how the forms work — that they had previously made on their financial-aid applications. As a result of the workshop, a handful of them received more aid this year.
The fact that there were students who were not receiving as much financial aid as they were technically eligible for is a tragedy. The LC has taken an important step forward by identifying this area of confusion and providing a forum where students can step forward and have their questions answered.
In addition, the LC has been working with the Undergraduate Assembly to improve the SFS feedback system. When student leaders approached SFS earlier this semester, they were surprised to find that there was already a survey in place. The catch? It had been out of service for a year and a half.
This illustrates a significant problem. If a student has a bad experience with an adviser, she should be able to give SFS feedback about her encounter. In the Latino community’s relationship with SFS, De La Rosa says, “there have been stories here and there about students not being treated fairly and with respect.” The LC wants SFS to be able to respond to those instances as they occur. This can only happen if SFS has a strong feedback system in place.
But more broadly, the LC’s work here has the capability to transform the relationship between all students and SFS. About 60 percent of all Penn undergraduates receive some form of financial aid — a pretty sizable amount of people that have to deal with the SFS office.
Both of these initiatives can positively and directly impact Penn students’ interactions with SFS, and will hopefully evolve into a campus-wide program. Financial-aid workshops will help students who do not have a good understanding of how to fill out the often-confusing and superfluous financial-aid application forms. A stronger feedback system will ensure that SFS can better eliminate practices that do not work, leaving the best practices. Students will be happier and SFS will be more efficient. This is a win/win situation for all.
De la Rosa puts it best when she says, “Anyone can argue that the SFS office is the most important office on campus because they decide whether or not you can come to Penn.” An office that determines whether or not a student can afford to come Penn cannot afford to be anything less than efficient, understanding and effective.
We need to ensure that students know how to apply for aid correctly and that SFS is doing all it can to make sure students walk away from their office having had a positive experience. If the LC successfully advances the two SFS initiatives that it’s been working on, the average student’s financial-aid interaction will be considerably improved.
Dennie Zastrow is a College senior from Wilson, N.Y. He is the chairman of the Lambda Alliance. His e-mail address is email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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