In early August, UC San Diego’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships changed the housing status of all students listed as dependents to Living with his parents, even as the university moved forward with its return to learning program. This change reduced the amount of aid students were to receive for the fall 2020 term. Many students have had difficulty correcting their housing status and report that communication about this change was inconsistent.
Students’ housing statutes were changed even though their FAFSA or California Dream Act filings indicated they were Living off campus (without parents) or Live on campus. To change their housing status and reclaim their full financial aid package, students must now email Financial Aid stating their correct housing status and provide supporting documentation, such as a copy of their lease.
Thuy Hoang, a third-year undergraduate student, received an email from the financial aid office notifying her of changes in her housing status on August 4.
“I thought everyone got that email,” Hoang said.
However, via Twitter, Hoang discovered that other students had not received the same notification. On August 5, a student tweeted“I just spoke with financial aid and they said they will assume ALL students are living at home (meaning your aid programs will be significantly reduced) and they will NOT advise students send him rental contracts.”
Director of Financial Aid Vonda Garcia has not responded to the claim that the financial aid office initially decided not to inform students that they would need to send proof of lease for restore their full financial assistance program.
“All students were notified through UC San Diego email accounts,” Garcia wrote in an email to The Newt. “Some emails were delayed due to a server issue.”
Although Garcia wrote that the financial aid office reads and responds to all emails, third-year student Xenia Martinez says that hasn’t been her experience.
“I sent [Financial Aid] about three or four emails with actual proof of my lease that I live off campus,” Martinez said. “And they keep sending me more emails asking me for the same lease, telling me they placed my financial aid as ‘living with my parents,’ and they even billed me already.”
Garcia wrote that she was unaware that students are continually being asked to resubmit proof of off-campus residency.
With his housing status listed as Living with his parents, an entire grant was withdrawn from Martinez’s financial aid program. As she waits for a response from financial aid about whether her financial aid package can be recovered, Martinez says she is worried.
“I’m stressed because I pay my own school fees. I calculate my rent,” Martinez said. “So I’m just like, ‘What am I doing? Am I okay for the year? Do I need to take on extra work?’ Like, what do I need to train?
Hoang faced the same anxiety as she waited several days for a response from financial aid after submitting her lease.
“If they couldn’t change it [my housing status] at ‘Off Campus,’ I was really worried about how to get my rent paid,” Hoang said. “The reason I live off campus is that my own family housing situation isn’t good either. So if I didn’t have rent to pay, I would be homeless at that time.
According to Garcia, the financial aid office responds to emails daily, though during peak hours it can take several days for students to receive responses.
Hoang, however, said it took him over two weeks to get an answer to one question. Third-year undergraduate student Arley Bibiano also experienced financial aid unresponsiveness.
“A lot of times I had to go to financial aid four times to solve a problem,” Bibiano said.
According to Hoang, long response times are causing anxiety for students who run out of time for scholarships and other deadlines. Bibiano says his financial aid stress is exacerbated by the fact that his parents are undocumented.
“I depend on information from my parents [to get financial aid]so putting them in danger of anything that threatens them to be in this country, it makes me a bit anxious,” Bibiano said.
Martinez and Hoang were frustrated that the financial aid office changed the students’ housing status without warning.
“The fact that financial aid hasn’t really given us any communication or information about it is quite upsetting,” Hoang said. “It makes a lot of students wonder, ‘Does the university really care about us? “”
Bibiano would like to see a change in the way financial aid communicates with students.
“If they [the Financial Aid Office] could have more direct communication with their students, I think they would be more helpful in making this process less anxious for students who may be facing financial insecurity and dependent on financial aid,” Bibiano said. .
The deadline to submit documentation for Fall term financial aid adjustments is October 16, although Financial Aid recommends submitting documentation as soon as possible and before the Fall term fee deadline for ensure that student financial aid accurately reflects their housing status.
Shagun Khare is an editor for The Triton. You can follow her here.