"You get financial aid, and YOU get financial aid!"

“You get financial aid, and YOU get financial aid!”

Late Sunday night, Dean James Valentini of Columbia College and Dean Mary Boyce of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science sent out an email detailing the policy changes to financial aid for undergraduates in the two schools beginning in the fall of 2015. CCSC Policy VP Sejal Singh called these changes “first steps” that are nonetheless an “enormous win for students.” Tuition will not be raised to account for the changes. As Singh explains, the funds were already there, and “our role was emphasizing that these were our priorities.”

For the first time ever, both schools are offering to meet the full financial need of transfer students in pursuit of their first degree, thereby attempting to minimize the significant tuition costs most transfer students face today. CCSC President Peter Bailinson notes that one of the Council’s goals was “targeting things that will have as large an impact as possible.” This change will allow all CC/SEAS students pursuing their first degree to receive their full demonstrated need.

Also, students who opt to use outside scholarships can now use those funds to reduce their summer work expectation in addition to their term-time work expectation. Previously, students could only use outside scholarships for term-time work expectations and a few other incidentals. The maximum outside scholarship amount students will be able to apply to their aid package before it reduces their Columbia grant will now be around $5,000. Though there are some exceptions, this is the most outside aid that the majority of students receive. Bailinson added that the Council is still working on how outside scholarships can be used to reduce students’ family contributions, though “it gets really complicated” when that enters the discussion.

Finally, the Office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing will adjust how student assets are treated, aiming to reduce the student contribution portion for undergraduates which would ultimately result in larger financial aid awards. University Senator Jared Odessky points out that previously, any money students made during high school would generally go to pay for college, even if they were the primary earner for their family. Those cases will now be individually assessed.

A final note in the email from Dean Valentini and Dean Boyce is on recent changes that have not been fully publicized. The Council is currently working with Dean Marinaccio, the dean of Undergraduate Admissions, to make sure resources like these are more widely known. Singh offers the example of the Emergency Fund, which can be used if a student can’t afford something vital, like a winter coat or a ticket home to visit a sick relative. As long as students don’t know about these resources, “they might as well not exist for that student,” she said. While their work continues, Singh, Bailinson, and Odessky all expressed that they are excited about these changes.

Deantini and Dean Boyce sent the following email summarizing the new policy changes:

Dear Students,

We are pleased to share with you that we will be implementing significant financial aid enhancements and policy changes for 2015-2016 in order to better support undergraduates in Columbia College and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. We appreciate the advocacy of the Columbia College Student Council, the Columbia Engineering Student Council and other undergraduate student leaders, including members of the University Senate, who confirmed that these are important changes to prioritize in our ongoing consideration of affordability at Columbia The following changes will be in effect for incoming and enrolled students starting in Fall 2015:

  • We will meet the full financial need of all transfer students pursuing their first degree, eliminating the “gap” of unmet need that our transfer students had previously faced.
  • Students who have been awarded outside scholarships will be able to use those funds to reduce both their term-time work expectation and their summer work expectation. Previously only the term-time work expectation could be reduced by outside scholarships.
  • We will be altering the way that we treat student assets, which will reduce the student contribution for many undergraduates, resulting in larger financial aid awards.

In addition to these pending changes, we would like to highlight several recent financial aid enhancements that we have already put into place and from which our students are already benefiting.

  • This year, we increased the amount designated for personal expenses in determining the cost of attendance to more accurately reflect the costs that students encounter. This follows a prior year increase in the amount designated for books after a similar assessment. Increasing a component of the cost of attendance, in turn, increases students’ financial aid awards. We will be reevaluating both amounts each year.
  • Likewise, we have also re-adjusted the travel allocations designated in the cost of attendance for students to better reflect increasing travel costs. Students traveling from far distances to attend Columbia will be provided additional financial aid to help offset the purchase of their plane tickets. We will also be reevaluating this amount each year.
  • In addition, last year we changed the financial aid policy for Resident Advisers so that we could provide similar financial benefits to RAs who are on financial aid as to their counterparts who are not on financial aid. We accomplished this by waiving both the term-time and summer work expectations for RAs on financial aid, giving them increased Columbia grants.
  • Finally, Financial Aid continues to review emergency funding requests from students on a case by case basis and may provide additional support for travel and other emergency student needs.

We believe that these changes to our financial aid policy make important strides in increasing affordability for our students and families. We are grateful for the commitment of our alumni and friends, as proven through the overwhelming response during Giving Day, which enables us to have one of the most generous financial aid programs in the country.

If you have any questions about any of these changes, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing at ugrad-finaid@columbia.edu or (212) 854-3711.


James J. Valentini
Dean of Columbia College and
Vice President for Undergraduate Education
Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor

Mary C. Boyce
Dean of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
Morris A. and Alma Schapiro Professor

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