Financial aid changes are a step in the right direction

The University has finally listened to students’ concerns about financial aid.

Complaints about financial aid are not unique to GW, but students have long complained about inefficiencies in the office. But now administrators have shown they heard students’ qualms and announced sweeping changes to the financial aid office Thursday.

Administrators claim that these changes will clear up poor communication between students and financial aid staff members. Any move that works toward remedying the complicated and expensive process of securing funding to cover GW’s increasing tuition is a positive one, but administrators must be aware that these changes will not fix all the issues in the office and fixing a broken system is an ongoing process.

Beginning in the fall, students will be assigned individual advisers, have access to a 24/7 chat service and can contribute to an advisory council and voice problems they have encountered with financial aid at GW.

While one-on-one advisers could be good for monitoring students’ financial situations, most students do not require that service on a regular enough basis to call for an individual to be assigned to each student.

Many issues with financial aid come from a complete lack of communication between students and financial aid staff, not poor communication. If assigning each student an adviser means an individual will contact students if they are missing documents before a deadline approaches or a hold is placed on their account so they are proactive, the change will be a welcome one. Otherwise, the addition is unnecessary.

One positive that could come from the one-on-one advising model is new hires in the office. Officials said with the new model, they will hire new employees but did not yet know how many would join their ranks. Regardless, extra staffing is needed and this is a welcome change.

Financial aid is a sensitive topic and roadblocks along the way can have huge consequences for students and their families, so ample support staff is vital for a productive office. Students need near-immediate support when it comes to financial challenges to avoid additional fees and undue stress, so more staff members who are available to students would alleviate that problem.

On top of the individual advisers, administrators and students will pair up for an advisory council where students can express concerns regarding their experience with the office. Students have taken to Facebook and other forms of social media to complain about the financial aid office before, and now they will have a productive way to elevate issues to the University. Now it is just up to officials to listen.

The final change – a 24/7 chat service – may be helpful for some, but most issues are too personal and complex to solve via instant message, so this isn’t a fix-all solution. The chat will be able to answer some of students’ more basic questions about their financial aid packages or required documents, but the most effective solution will likely still be talking directly to an employee. Simple questions likely gum up the office’s phone lines and waiting rooms, so having this service will increase efficiency, but it needs to be paired with knowledgable staff in the office to truly benefit students.

It is heartening to see the University finally listening to student concerns regarding financial aid. The topic can be heated and high stakes for many students, so the University needs to adequately respond to student concerns, which it does with many of the new changes.

The individual adviser model and 24/7 chat service – when paired – seem to address issues with time and staff constraints in the office, and the advisory council creates a built-in model for students to give ongoing feedback. As the University continues to roll out these financial aid changes and hear feedback from students, officials must continue to shift course to effectively serve students.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, contributing social media director Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Lindsay Paulen.

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