University adds $2 million to financial aid pool

The University added $2 million to the undergraduate financial aid pool and is reevaluating its communication strategy between students and financial aid counselors, after 400 undergraduate students saw hefty decreases in their aid packages this year.

A majority of the students who saw a drop in aid were selected by the Department of Education for an audit – a routine procedure to determine whether or not a student’s reported financial situation is accurate – and said they were unaware that they had to submit additional documents in order to satisfy the review.

By the time the students realized they were missing documents, it was too late, and GW’s $148 million aid pool had already been doled out.

University personnel reminded students of the application deadline last April via e-mail, emphasizing the importance of consistently checking GWeb, which changes to reflect new requirements.

Administrators also sent monthly reminders to students if documents were missing from their applications.

The financial aid office is exploring other ways to decrease the frequency of similarly missed deadlines in the future, including granting parents access to financial aid accounts and sending weekly reminders for students to check their application statuses online, Dan Small, the associate vice president of the financial aid office, said.

Robert Chernak, senior vice provost and senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said between 45 and 60 students are still lobbying forbetween $5,000 and $8,000 in additional aid. He added that the University is committed to ensuring that these students are able to stay at the University.

“What we don’t want is someone who has come to GW in good faith, knowing what their circumstances were and then fallen on hard times,” Chernak said. “We don’t want to abandon those students. We’re going to help everybody out as best we can.”

Students who filed late without a legitimate explanation may suffer a financial penalty, Chernak said.

Maritza Barcelona was one of the students who saw a drop in her aid package.

Barcelona was set to return to GW this fall with aid, but in August GW administrators suddenly said that she was missing necessary documents and as a result lost $24,000 of her aid. She has since recovered $14,000 in aid. The remaining $10,000 gap may mean Barcelona has to leave GW next semester.

“I’ve started to realize GW is more of a business than a school. Here I’m just a number. I’m a GWid at the end of the day,” she said.

Chernak said he has met with a handful of students like Barcelona to talk about their aid packages, which has helped him identify areas for improvement in communication throughout the aid application process.

“We have work to do on training. We have to make sure the staff is educated appropriately. There’s work. All we can do is try to do better,” he said.

Chernak said he knew of at least one case in which officials at Colonial Central failed to give a student consistent instructions, resulting in a late filing and the loss of aid.

“In those cases, what we did is we went back and we adjusted the award as it would have been awarded if it were on time with no complications,” he said.

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