Over 15 percent of students receiving financial aid in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science have completed a survey about the Office of Financial Aid, the second step in a semester-long internal review of the office.
The review is split into three stages: a series of student lunches with Dean of Financial Aid Laurie Schaffler, GS ’92, during the month of February, the survey, and a set of focus groups.
Over 600 students had completed the survey, which is meant to quantitatively assess student opinions of the office, by the end of last week, out of more than 3,800 in CC and SEAS who receive financial aid from either the University or from outside scholarships. The survey will close by the end of April.
From the participants of the survey, participants for seven out of the eight focus groups will be randomly selected. The last will be composed of staff within the Office of Financial Aid itself. John Osae-Kwapong, the newly hired director of research and planning for the Division of Student Affairs, will be leading the focus groups in early April.
Schaffler said that her office is planning to send out the first round of invitations for the focus groups by the end of the month and will continue to do so as more students fill out the survey.
She said she was pleased with the feedback she has received so far. Although the lunch discussions were “really informative,” she said, “I wasn’t surprised by anything that I heard.”
“There was a real array of comments and questions—they went everywhere from real severe criticism of the office to incredible graciousness and gratitude for what we do,” she said. Some of the most common concerns were students changing advisers, financial aid programming, and the dissemination of information.
Most changes to the office will likely not be seen until the beginning of the next academic year at the earliest, but Schaffler is looking into making some adjustments sooner, including revamping the office’s Web page and organizing a mandatory financial aid workshop during the New Student Orientation Program.
“One of my biggest take-aways is that we have to do a better job of providing good information in terms of how we communicate,” Schaffler said.
Karishma Habbu, CC ’13, CCSC student services representative, and a candidate for president of the CCSC executive board, was the first Columbia College Student Council member to raise the issue of a review of the Office of Financial Aid, and is continuing to collaborate with administrators. Although she originally thought that the administration’s decision to direct the review would slow down the process, Habbu said she is “thrilled” with how the review has been progressing.
“Students did a great job of making it clear that this is important to them,” she said. “We set a timeline at the beginning of the semester, and we have been keeping it.”
Schaffler also said that the level of involvement from undergraduates has been encouraging. “Students have been such a big part of making this happen,” Schaffler said. “I wanted to have at least a good part of it done before all the students leave so that we have something to look at.”