Everyone knows that one of the incentives for becoming an RA (besides those awesomely awkward times when you have to scold people your own age) is the free room. Part of an RA’s agreement is that their housing for the year is deducted from their Columbia fee, making Columbia housing truly the best deal in the city. Thanks to the web of ambiguities that is Columbia financial aid, however, not all RAs are treated equally when it comes to this pay break. For an RA on no financial aid, the cost of housing is simply taken off their bill each semester and that’s that. If an RA is on financial aid, however, the removal of housing costs lowers the overall bill — and that in turn lowers the amount of aid that they receive, since aid is determined in proportion to what the student must pay. Obviously, this sparked a small uproar among students and pressure on the administration to figure out a more stable and equitable compensation for RAs.

Enter the new solution proposed by Student Affairs: in an effort to keep compensation equal, the Financial Aid office will waive both term-work and summer work expectation costs for RAs on financial aid. The RA room rate will also become standardized, so that an RA in Carman will receive the same amount as an RA in Hogan. The new policy is effective starting next year, so 2013-2014 RAs will be under the new regulations. All RAs, whether they’re on financial aid or not, should then get $6,500 removed from their Cost of Attendance. Equality!

The full policy change is after the jump.

RA Stipend Policy Change Overview:
RAs receive free housing and an annual stipend for the responsibilities they undertake as part of the role. Per the current policy, the value of this housing is removed from the Cost of Attendance for those RAs who are financial aid recipients and as such their Columbia University Grant (CUG) is adjusted down. Students brought forth the issue that they see a lack equity for RAs who receive financial aid versus those who do not because of this adjustment to their CUG award and proposed that there be equity for all RA benefits regardless of a student’s financial aid status.
• A student’s Cost of Attendance has a direct impact on his or her financial aid eligibility. Ordinarily, when a student’s educational costs go down, the financial need is reduced as well, resulting in a lowering of the CUG eligibility. In the past, to offset a portion of this standard adjustment and to preserve a financial benefit for the student, the Financial Aid Office has waived the term-time work expectation for aid recipients who are RAs.

Proposed Solution:
Continue to provide free housing and an annual stipend for the responsibilities RAs undertake as part of the role. For those RAs who are also financial aid recipients, the Financial Aid Office will waive both the term-time work expectation AND summer work expectation (bold and italics ours). At the same time, Columbia Housing will create a standardized room rate for RAs which should be about equal in value to the adjustment the financial aid office will make for term-time work expectation and summer work expectation.
• For 2013-14, the Financial Aid Office will waive both the term-time work expectation and summer work expectation. This will result in a reduction of the family contribution.
• As a result of this enhancement, all student RAs – whether they receive financial aid or not – will receive a similar financial reduction to their Cost of Attendance of approximately $6,500 (the value of the housing) for their service.
• Student RAs who are eligible for this adjustment to their financial aid packages do not need to take any special action; the Financial Aid Office will work directly with the Office of Residential Programs to make sure that all eligible students benefit from this change.