Financial aid questions go unanswered
The START Center, located in library room 101. (Photo by Isaac Tellechea.)

Financial aid questions go unanswered

Over the years, New College faculty and staff have shown a commitment to aiding students to the best of their ability. This term, however, some students are reporting concerns about pressing financial issues and miscommunication between students and Financial Aid. With mounting questions and cost concerns, some students have said that transferring may be their best option. 

First-year Haley Beliveau spoke to the Catalyst about the difficulties she has experienced regarding her estimated costs and the lack of answers when speaking with the Financial Aid department. “My estimated financial aid report had come in the beginning of the summer, then it changed a month prior to getting here. It wasn’t necessarily a negative change since my financial aid also went up, but the bill went up regardless,” Beliveau said.   

She explained that she was confused about  what she would owe. She said she called and spoke with Financial Aid Coordinator Kate MacNeil, who told her she would owe nothing. “What wasn’t explained to me was how much would be taken from each loan and how much I would have to repay once my grace period ended,” Beliveau said.

“It was an unnerving experience because I was showing the Financial Aid [coordinator]  my report, saying this is what I don’t understand and this is what I do, and she repeatedly told me ‘Just do the math,’” Beliveau continued. “I had explained that nobody in my family understands the aid report because I’m a first generation student. So I tried to do the math and it was wrong and I ended up having to reach out to a friend’s mom who is a calculus professor—that was more helpful than Financial Aid.” 

Beliveau expressed that the experience was demotivating, due to the stress she now faces about her future at New College. As of now, she doesn’t know if her financial aid is recurring or how much she’ll owe if she stays all four years. 

“I was told I would owe no money on the first statement, and the second statement had extra expenses added on,” Beliveau said. “Last month there was an extra $450 in charges added and I didn’t understand that. When I met with Kate MacNeil she shrugged and said, ‘This is what we had to do.’ It was a very vague response.”

Beliveau was also confused about why she had charges for programs she’s not in, such as a biology fee and an athletic fee. She said she couldn’t get clarification concerning those specific fees, and it wasn’t until she spoke to other students that she was able to get answers. She said she felt the experience was unfair because that’s not their job. 

“Talking with my roommates is what really cleared up my questions, since we checked what was consistent with our statements and what wasn’t,” Beliveau explained. “But I wasn’t expecting the increase and I didn’t think schools could do that. I have friends in different schools in the state and none of them have had this experience of uncertainty on what they’ll owe, or what they’ll owe in the next few years.

“My total had gone up $6,000 more and I didn’t understand why and when I asked, she [MacNeil] said that everyone was experiencing this but nothing else,” Beliveau continued. “I asked if it was because of the incoming athletic division and she said possibly. I didn’t understand what my loans meant and I was repeatedly told to do the math.”

Beliveau claims she feels “stuck,” not knowing what she’ll owe and not knowing if her credits would transfer over if she were to go to a different university.  

“There’s no one who has been able to give me a straight answer,” she said. “I feel like as an incoming student, not having support broadcasted to your face is really lonely in the sense that I don’t know what’s going on with the money.” 

Beliveau, who is  an out-of-state student, explained how limited her resources are, and that for Financial Aid to not be receptive to questions or meetings has made for an “incredibly stressful environment.”

Another first-year student, Ellie Caflisch, expected to have the majority of her costs covered this semester. Instead, she told the Catalyst, she paid $2,800 out of pocket. 

“I expected the meal plan charges for the semester to be $1,500, which is what I received on my statement,” Caflisch said. “They didn’t tell us it was going up to almost $2,500.”

According to Caflisch, she was told by Financial Aid that her meal plan scholarship would cover the difference. She said she questions this because she wouldn’t have owed money if the cost of the meal plan had been fully covered. “I went to the START center and requested an itemized bill, which was full of little fees that add up,” Caflisch explained. “When I asked the woman I was speaking to what the fees meant, she said everything was on there but she didn’t explain why I was being charged that. There was a $105 ‘financial aid fee’, which to me sounds so backwards and I wasn’t explained what it is. 

“I have multiple friends that might drop out after this semester because they can’t afford it,” Caflisch continued. “My roommate planned to pay close to nothing and then they were told after classes had started that they had to pay $1,000.”

Caflisch claimed her roommate called Financial Aid about how they would not be able to stay if the costs continued to rise, and were told that there was nothing Financial Aid could do, a statement Caflisch says she herself has been told more than once.

 An in-person interview was requested with MacNeil, who declined to comment and told a Catalyst reporter that any questions could be communicated to the Office of Communications and Marketing.

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