After a review of the Office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing last semester eliminated personal financial aid adviser pairings, students have responded with generally positive reviews.
According to Jessica Marinaccio, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, these changes also included hiring additional financial aid officers and expanding office hours.
Gabriel Blanco, SEAS ’15, said he had heard nothing but complaints about the financial aid office before the reforms. “I’m assuming any change is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Last year, Columbia College Student Council President Karishma Habbu, CC ’13, said that she approached administrators about problems that her friends had experienced with the office.
“A few of my friends have had some incidents with the financial aid office, and they were concerned about it,” Habbu said.
“They were really good about listening to us,” she added. “When it became really clear that this was important to us, they really took responsibility for it.”
Habbu said that she was pleased with the changes and with the administration’s timely response, saying the office was willing to take risks by hiring more officers.
Students visiting the financial aid office this week have already seen the effects of these changes, especially the fact that students can now come in for office hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“More office hours makes it handier,” Lowell Schudel, CC ’16, said. “That’ll help me because we all have busy schedules and getting into the office won’t be a pain.”
“I just walked in without an appointment, and it was a lot easier than I expected,” Ezra Kebrab, SEAS ’13, said. “In the past, it’s been difficult even to schedule an appointment.”
Zach Zazueta, SEAS ’15, said that he had never had any issues with the financial aid office. “I know it’s rare,” he added.
Habbu said she had initially disagreed with the office’s decision to do away with personal advisers but later found that the new policy was a good way to increase efficiency.
Marinaccio said that this new method would offer “a flexible process for connecting with counselors so that students can just stop by with questions.” Now, students won’t be turned away if their assigned adviser happens to be away from his or her office.
“People weren’t looking for a friend out of their financial aid officer,” Habbu said. “They were looking for someone to get their work done.”
However, Schudel said that the new system “might discourage people from going if they don’t know who they’re talking to.”
Catherine Curtis, CC ’13, echoed this sentiment, explaining that although it is not a big deal to go to a different adviser for quick questions, personal advisers have been an important part of her experience.
Curtis had to switch financial aid officers after her first year. She said that her first financial aid officer “already knew my history, where I came from. Then I had to go tell another person, which was frustrating.”
In addition, Curtis said that there are still holes in how the financial aid advisers function.
“I rely on them to educate me on what certain terms mean or what the best option is for taking out loans. I don’t think they do a good job with that,” Curtis said. “I feel like I go there, and all they do is calculate stuff.”
The announcement of the changes came at a difficult time—shortly before finals—and the office will continue to publicize its modifications in the coming months through open houses and CCSC meetings.
Ebun Andrew, SEAS ’16, said that the office “should have a weekly email to the student body, similar to Multicultural Affairs and the CCE Office, to advertise more.”
Marinaccio said that the system seems to be off to a good start. She added that the changes would not necessarily end here, noting that the office will continue to gauge effectiveness by setting up a feedback system for students to voice their opinions about their experiences with an adviser.
“This time, it was very quick, very easy, and they were able to deal with the issue immediately,” Kebrab said after coming out of a 10-minute meeting with the office. “I was thoroughly impressed.”