Despite Top Ranking, Pomona Financial Aid Draws Criticism From Students

(Dominic Frempong• The Student Life)Pomona College was ranked first for “Best Financial Aid” by the Princeton Review in its book Colleges that Pay You Back: 2017 Edition.

The Princeton Review ranking “confirms Pomona College’s strong commitment to making a college education accessible and affordable,” wrote Pomona Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Seth Allen in an email to TSL.

Fifty-seven percent of Pomona students receive financial aid. The average financial aid award is currently $48,034, according to the 2016-2017 Common Data Set posted on Pomona’s website. Pomona practices need-blind admissions for domestic students and provides need-based financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and work stipends. International student admissions are need-aware.

“A financial aid program that meets 100 percent of the demonstrated need of our students is the single most important financial priority for Pomona College,” Allen wrote.

According to its website, the Princeton Review ranks colleges based on 80-question surveys of about 375 students from each of the 381 schools ranked.

Despite this ranking, some Pomona students are dissatisfied and frustrated with their experiences with the Office of Financial Aid (OFA). Some students feel that the office could give larger financial aid awards, particularly to students whose families have annual incomes of $20,000 or less.

“I have had Quest students tell me that, compared to other colleges of similar caliber, Pomona doesn’t do the best for its lowest income students. It might do well overall, but … for its lowest income students, it doesn’t do that well overall,” said Teofanny Saragi PO '18, co-president of Quest, a mentorship and support program for low-income students.

According to Saragi, students struggle to find jobs to meet work-study requirements and must work two or even three jobs, some off-campus.

“We are full-time students, so it’s hard to worry about meeting our full work allotment,” Saragi said.

Other students, like Laura Gonzales PO '19, find OFA to be difficult to work with and not accommodating.

“There’s kind of a ‘we don’t care’ vibe” in the office, Gonzales said.

Gonzales also often finds excess charges, sometimes up to $500, on her bills and struggles to have them removed.

“When I went to talk to them, they didn’t know what the [$500 charge] was from and said, ‘just pay it,’” Gonzales said. “If I hadn’t pushed for it and been really aggressive, I would have been stuck with the bill ... It’s always just such an annoyance to deal with that office.”

Saragi echoed Gonzales’ frustrations. Like Gonzales, she and other Quest members often find it difficult to connect with financial aid officers able to answer specific questions about their financial aid packages.

OFA needs to be “more attuned to the needs of the students, especially those who have difficulty reaching out on their own, since this is such a difficult process,” said Saragi.  

Bethel Geletu PO '19, one of two student representatives to the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee, said she frequently hears that students have issues with communicating with OFA.

“There’s a lot of problems with lack of communication or being responsive or being accessible to a lot of students,” Geletu said. “Even though the financial aid office itself may be quite good” in terms of the size of financial aid packages, “it may not please all students.”

Student comments to TSL about OFA were consistent with the results of a 2015 survey by Jun Park PO '16, as well as a survey by Muhammad Jalal PO '16 and Fiker Bekele PO '16, the 2015-2016 student representatives for the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee. The surveys found that OFA was not very accessible to students and their families, according to an Oct. 2, 2015 article in TSL

According to Allen, OFA is working to improve its responsiveness to student and family requests by adding an additional financial aid counselor and meeting with students.

“My expectation of the financial aid office is that they are responsive to student and family requests. An important aspect of their job is to provide counsel to current and prospective students, as well as their families,” Allen wrote.

Incoming Director of Financial Aid Robin Thompson, who is currently Pitzer College’s Director of Financial Aid, also aims to improve communication between OFA and students through additional training for financial aid staff and student events and activities.

“I will work with staff to evaluate the counseling structure of the office, and assess staff needs for cross training so that all staff are familiar with the different functions of the office to help counsel and resolve student and parent questions and concerns when they arise,” Thompson wrote in an email to TSL.

Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) is working to launch an anonymous online forum for students to share and compare their experiences to help navigate issues with OFA, according to ASPC Vice President for Finance Olivia Dure PO '17. Dure expects to launch the forum later this semester.

Geletu and Alejandra Chávez PO '17 the other student representative to the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee, will also organize a forum on Feb. 15 for Pomona students to share their thoughts and concerns about financial aid.

 

This article was updated on Feb. 11 to reflect that the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee student forum will take place on Feb. 15.