Students will no longer be assigned to individual financial aid officers starting next semester, following an internal review conducted by the financial aid office last spring.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jessica Marinaccio said in a statement Tuesday that the Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science financial aid office will undergo a series of structural changes as a result of the review, which was designed to increase communication between the office and students. In addition to allowing students to work with any financial aid adviser, the office has hired four additional staff members, and office hours will be expanded from six to 40 hours per week.
Marinaccio wouldn’t speak on the record about the changes, but she said in the statement that they’re intended to increase the efficiency with which students’ concerns are addressed.
“Paying for college can be a challenging prospect,” Marinaccio said in a statement. “We want to help students and families more smoothly negotiate this complicated process and feel that these changes will help us do that.”
The internal review—which was implemented by former financial aid dean Laurie Schaffler, who left Columbia in May—consisted of focus groups, a student survey, and educational groups. It found that students were unhappy with financial aid officers’ response times to emails and phone calls, wanted more information about their financial aid packages, and would like to know more about the exact role of financial aid officers.
The review also showed that parents often interact with financial aid officers more directly than students do. As a result, students will now have the option of including their parents in communications with the office.
Columbia College Student Council President Karishma Habbu, CC ’13, spearheaded the review with Schaffler last semester. Habbu said that the changes address all three of the major student concerns—timeliness, communication, and educational outreach.
“These changes are great—they are exactly what we need,” she said.
Habbu added that she is thrilled with the quick follow-up by the financial office and its staff.
“They went above and beyond,” she said.
The results of the review were shared last month with Habbu, Engineering Student Council President Tim Qin, SEAS ’13, Columbia College Dean James Valentini, and School of Engineering and Applied Science Interim Dean Don Goldfarb.
The evaluation also showed that students were generally satisfied with their individual interactions with financial aid officers, although few had actually stopped by the office. Parents, for whom data was collected through a survey conducted by the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, were also generally pleased with the services provided.
Marinaccio was appointed to her current position in August, when the offices of financial aid and admissions merged. She has served as dean of admissions since 2004.