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RA Payment Policy Changed

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.

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  • not an RA says:

    @not an RA but this is awesome

    1. am an RA says:

      @am an RA and this is still awesome

  • Current RA says:

    @Current RA I hope this actually works. I am one of the RAs whose grant basically decreased by my housing so I was working “for free” so to speak, so it would be nice to finally be able to help out my family financially. Thanks to all RAs and admin that worked on this :)

  • rising junior says:

    @rising junior wow is my senior year too late to start being an RA because i want this

  • RA wannabe says:

    @RA wannabe this is awesome

  • Bora says:


  • almost RA says:

    @almost RA I would have accepted an RA position 2 years ago if this happened sooner!

    1. Tastemaker says:

      @Tastemaker @almost RA: And I would have applied!

  • AH says:

    @AH This is the best thing ever holy shit thank you guys so much!! My parents can breathe a little easier now…

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous This is a non issue because you shouldn’t be getting financial aid on something you are not paying for. To add in “free” housing, would falsify your request for aid and would be considered fraud. It would be like inflating the price of a house to get a larger mortgage.

    1. Brendan '11 says:

      @Brendan '11 @Anonymous:
      Not at all the case.

      RAs do a LOT of work. It is DEFINITELY a job. If you don’t think so, save everyone the time and keep your comment to yourself, because it’s not worth listing the various roles and responsibilities RAs have to try to convince you, and I’m not going to read your reply.

      When I was one, the “pay” was $600/year. The actual pay is what you save in housing. I know this because now that I am paying off the loans I have from Columbia, every month I thank ResLife that I don’t have that additional $20,000 of debt that paying for housing would have added over those three years.

      By simply subtracting the price of housing from the calculated need, you are discouraging students who are on financial aid from being RAs. Why take a job when there is no monetary benefit? Unless you’re really desperate to pad your resume or oddly altruistic, there’s not a good reason (if you are, good luck/God bless). Not having this policy in place discourages a substantial portion of Columbia from applying to be an RA. One of the best candidates I interviewed turned down the position offered to her for exactly this reason. She actually said her expected contribution would increase if she took the job; I forget how it worked, and I wasn’t sure it was the case, but she certainly didn’t want to work for free.

      This is a great policy. I brought this up to my boss three years ago, and I’m so happy that it has finally been enacted.

      That being said, if you disagree and think that RAs on aid shouldn’t be paid for their efforts, I hope you get a wonderful non-paying internship after you graduate. Maybe your parents can pay your rent and give you a credit card, too.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Why was the comment above removed? It is accurate.

      1. on finAid says:

        @on finAid @Anonymous:
        I don’t know about the comment being “removed” but it’s not accurate.
        CU Financial aid is screwy, in that the finAid department determines how much a student should pay and adjusts it’s grants so that the student must pay it.
        They even go as far as deducting the CU grant for outside scholarships a student receives.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for it. But it’s a weird system, and in many ways it discourages students from trying to help themselves by bringing in extra scholarships or grants, or from putting in work as RA’s since any extra money you earn is just deducted straight out of your columbia grant.

        Good to see they’re changing that.

    3. CC 15 says:

      @CC 15 Because financial aid is determined according to what your family supposedly CAN COMFORTABLY pay. Whether you’re paying the full price or only a third of it, the idea is that it places a RELATIVE equal financial burden. Non-financial aid receiving RAs get to reduce their burden by ~$6500. People on financial aid receive no incentive–they have the same financial burden as would have had if they were not an RA.

      This point marks the end of my diplomacy.

      Personally, I wish Columbia would just suck it the fuck up and PAY EVERYONE $6500 with like a check! Removing work study doesn’t necessarily help. Some students need to have that direct week to week income.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous No, they do not have the same financial burden. They have 6500 less per year in financial burden. They have 6500 less in loans and repayments.

        1. CC 15 says:

          @CC 15 wtf? everyone is paying as much as they are reasonably capable of paying. RAs who are not on financial aid are paying as much as they are reasonably capable of paying, minus the cost of housing, roughly equal to $6500. RAs who are on financial aid are paying as much they reasonably capable of paying, also minus $6500 via a reduction of work study.

          i just don’t think you know what’s going on here. this is how financial aid works for RAs under the old policy:

          Paying for everything costs $60,000.

          You’re not on financial aid. You are charged and pay $60,000. You become an RA. Your cost of housing is removed. You are charged $53, 500 a year. You pay $53,500 a year. That is $6500 less than you would were you not an RA.

          You are on financial aid. Columbia determines that you are capable of paying, say, $20,000 a year. They give you $40,000 to cover the rest that you can’t. You become an RA. Columbia again determines that you are capable of paying $20,000 a year. The total cost, minus your housing, is now $53,500. Columbia now gives you $33, 500 in grant. You’re still paying $20,000. A fair policy would have you now paying $13,500–$6500 less than you would if you were an RA.

          if you already understood all that and still believe that it was fair under the old policy…well….cool.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous They are coming from different pots, some making the deductions equal is actually unfair.

  • oh great says:

    @oh great so i’m taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to be here and I’ve spent 2 of my 3 years as a possible RA *not* doing it because they had that dumbass policy. i sure am glad i don’t have the chance to reduce my loans by $13,000 or anything just because columbia has had its head up its ass up until today

  • Finally says:

    @Finally It is absolutely ridiculous that it took this long for this to happen.

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