Pomona Students Give Feedback on Financial Aid Office

Despite the Princeton Review’s August 2015 ranking of Pomona College as the No. 4 school in the country for “Great Financial Aid,” some Pomona students have recently expressed concerns about the accessibility of Pomona’s Financial Aid Office.

On Sept. 29, Jun Park PO ’16 began circulating an online survey he created to collect information about student experiences with the Financial Aid Office.

“A lot of students had rather difficult experiences with the Office of Financial Aid, and what I wanted to do was provide a platform for students to be able to discuss these things,” Park said. “At its premise, it’s a relatively uncontroversial topic. We just want to have a discourse.”

Park also said that some students have expressed concerns about the Financial Aid Office’s treatment of undocumented and international students and the office’s lack of resources for non-English-speaking parents. 

“Many students perceive the office as not being very transparent, not as welcoming as it could be or should be,” Park said.

To complement Park’s survey, Muhammad Jalal PO ’16 and Fiker Bekele PO ’16, student representatives for the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee, released a data-driven survey about financial aid experiences on Sept. 23. Student organizations including Quest, Students of Color Alliance (SOCA), IDEAS at the Claremont Colleges, and Challah for Hunger have endorsed the survey, according to Jalal.

“When we saw Jun sharing the financial aid survey with students, we thought it would be great if we could come together since we had a similar goal in mind,” Jalal wrote in an email to TSL. “We launched a data-driven survey in addition to a narrative-based survey because we believe that it is important to see both individual perspectives and the larger picture.”

Jalal wrote that he and Bekele want to increase dialogue between students and administrators about financial aid. They plan to meet with Pomona President David Oxtoby, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Seth Allen and Director of Financial Aid Mary Booker to discuss the results of the survey.

“The financial aid office is due for an institutional review (its last one was 4-5 years ago), so I am certain that this new initiative will be ultimately beneficial to them,” Jalal wrote. “What I’d personally like to see is more compassion and equity in the process—something that nearly every institution at Pomona can and should aim for.”

Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum agreed that dialogues between students and administrators benefit the college. 

“The interaction needs to be continuous, it needs to be proactive,” she said.

Pomona’s website states that 56% of Pomona students received need-based scholarship aid from the college in the 2013-2014 academic year, with an average award of $41,213. Pomona has a need-blind admissions policy.

In response to the points Park raised, Allen said that Spanish speakers are on staff to assist parents, and that the office uses the same methodology when determining financial aid packages for international students and domestic students, although it can be harder to discern the full financial picture for international students. Regarding undocumented students, Allen said that any student graduating from a U.S. high school receives need-blind admissions and has their full need covered.

Park’s ideas for making the office more accessible to students and parents include financial literacy workshops, increasing the accessibility of online information and allowing bilingual students to work as translators.

“There has never been much of an avenue to connect students to the financial aid office beyond individual interactions, and even within that space, the power dynamic which exists can prevent sincere and honest discourse from occurring,” Jalal wrote.

Allen said that students do not need to fear retribution from the Financial Aid Office for contributing to the discourse around financial aid.

“Some people have great experiences … but we want to hear them when they don’t,” Park said.

Lauren Ison PO ’18 contributed reporting.

This article has been updated on Oct. 4, 2015. It originally referred to Fiker Bekele as Fiker Tadesse. 

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