On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Dean of College Admission and Vice Provost for Enrollment Initiatives Jon Burdick hosted “Financial Aid and Fairness,” an evening workshop addressing the perceived mystery behind financial aid processing. In an effort to engage campus in conversation about the topic, Burdick told students how financial aid calculations work.

Burdick shared the most basic calculation used when determining a student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid: “A minus B equals C,” where A is the average cost of annual attendance, B is the amount parents or guardians can spend and C is the eligibility for financial aid that a student might have.

Burdick continued to explain that C is typically where most financial aid counselors get stuck because the toughest question facing the administration is how to decide B, what a family can spend on college tuition, based on the limited amount of information that the school can get from parents. Burdick said he hopes to improve the calculations and make the process more transparent to students and families. He hopes that a student group acting as the mediator between the financial aid administration and the students will be formed.

“There will come into being sometime this year a permanent committee for student dialogue about financial aid, but it isn’t available to me yet,” Burdick said.
Meanwhile, I am confronting the need for decisions routinely throughout the year without routine student input. I’m aiming to change that.”

Burdick was inspired to launch this event after the formation of a student organization called the Peaceful Protest of the Financial Aid System, which questioned the transparency and sensitivity of UR’s Office of Financial Aid. The group was created when current junior Alex Wark received his financial aid package, and noticed that it had been reduced by $13,000 per year. He then started a Facebook group to raise awareness of students in similar situations. In about a week, over 500 students had joined, which included not only people impacted by changed packages, but also those whose friends were affected.

About 50 percent of the student body receives need-based financial aid. Burdick noted, however, that everyone who attends school here is participating in the financial aid process in some form or another. A fraction of the school’s tuition cost goes to financial aid, which goes back to students in the form of both need-based aid and merit scholarships. Allocation of the costs is reformed each year.

“The point of having the event is to jump-start greater involvement by students in looking at financial aid practices and policies,” Burdick explained. “Coincidentally, the Dean of Students had chosen ‘fairness’ for this year’s theme, and I wanted to make use of that.”

In the workshop, Burdick encouraged students to discuss what is fair and what is not. Since the workshop was meant to break down the myths and realities of awarding need-based aid to UR students, it was an open forum where students could directly ask any questions they may have about the financial aid system at UR.

Students’ Association  (SA)government helped sponsor and set up the event, which took place in the Gowen Room in Wilson Commons. Originally set to occur in early October, Burdick found the original date too ambitious for securing co-sponsorship from SA, and consequently, had to shift the event to a later date.

Ortego is a member of the class of 2019.

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