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Credit: Joy Lee

Student Financial Services announced four initiatives intended to help “highly-aided” students navigate Penn and focus on their academic and professional growth rather than having to worry about finances.

Starting this coming summer, Penn will waive expected summer savings contributions from the tuition of incoming freshman and sophomore students termed "highly-aided” – a small selection of those on financial aid. 

All students receiving financial aid have a section of their package that is designated to be covered using wages they should be making at a summer job, Executive Director of SFS Matt Sessa said. Usually this fee ranges from $1,500 to $1,800. This new policy will allow students either to pursue unpaid internships or to keep their summer earnings.

SFS has also created a program that gives up to $4,000 in funding to highly-aided rising juniors and seniors pursuing internships or summer research opportunities. 

Sessa said that highly-aided students are usually defined as students receiving full financial aid, and those who have a median household income of $65,500 and whose family tuition contribution is around $4,500.  

These initiatives were announced to students affected by the policy via an email from Provost Wendell Pritchett and Vice President for Finance and Treasurer MaryFrances McCourt Tuesday evening.  

Two other initiatives that were implemented for the first time this past summer and previously announced were also highlighted in the email. The first is a program that provides laptops to highly-aided students, and the second is that two new financial advisors, Silvia Hanks and Jodi Wagner, are now available to the highly-aided student population.

Sessa said that his team brainstormed these initiatives after administrators met with different groups across campus, including Penn First, the Undergraduate Assembly, and the Student Financial Services Advisory Board.

Photo from the Office of University Communications

“MaryFrances and Wendell worked with a group across campus of senior leaders, at the direction of the president, to determine what additional things we could do for first generation highly-aided students that would make their experience equal to other students across campus,” Sessa said.

Advocacy Chair of Penn First and College senior Lyndsi Burcham said the new initiatives will help students focus more on academics and less on potential financial issues. 

“These new initiatives should help alleviate a lot of worry that students have during the school years about upcoming financial burdens, like funding an unpaid or underpaid internship, or making enough money to pay their student contribution,” Burcham said. 

Sessa added that the expected contribution waiver will allow freshmen who might have needed to work longer at a summer job to pay the fee an opportunity to participate in pre-orientation programs. 

University Director of Finance Elaine Papas Varas said that though these initiatives may be new to students, Penn President Amy Gutmann has been marketing them to donors for a year and a half. 

Gutmann is known for her ambitious fundraising efforts, as well as  prioritizing financial aid initiatives during her 14 years at Penn. In 2015, she announced the University’s intention to raise $1 billion for financial aid by 2020. Last semester, the Board of Trustees approved a 5.25 percent expansion of the financial aid budget, along with a 3.8 percent increase in cost of attendance. 

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated Lyndsi Burcham was a junior and director of advocacy, when she is in fact a senior and advocacy chair. The DP regrets the error.