This week, SGA Rep Council heard from the Financial Aid Office and the Bursar’s office about Barnard’s operating budget and endowment, as well as how to improve student experiences with financial aid.

Welcome back to another week in SGA coverage! The meeting opened with introductions and external announcements from each representative. Audrey Pettit BC ‘22, Junior Class President, encouraged juniors to enter a raffle for a long-sleeve “Barnard 2022” T-shirt. The raffle ends on November 30, and more details can be found on the class Facebook page. Norah Hassan BC ‘21, Senior Class President, reminded seniors to fill out the graduation application by December 15, which is the deadline for graduations happening in the fall or spring. 

The guests at this week’s meeting were Eileen DiBenedetto (Chief Financial Officer and Vice President for Finance ), Minerva Read BC ‘98 (Bursar), Nanette DiLauro (Director of Financial Aid), and Jennifer Fondiller BC ‘88 (Vice President for Enrollment and Communications).

DiBenedetto began by explaining Barnard’s operating budget for FY 2021, the current fiscal year. Of the $210 million in the budget, the largest share (42%) goes towards salaries and wages for faculty, staff, students, and administrators. The next largest portion of the budget (20%) is dedicated to OTPS (Other Than Personal Service) a category which includes costs of supplies, catering, travel, etc – DiBenedetto described this portion as anything besides salary and financial aid expenses. The last major portion of the budget (18.4%) goes toward financial aid. DiBenedetto stated that this year’s budget is consistent with those of the past fifteen years that DiBenedetto has been at Barnard. She also highlighted that Barnard is a tuition-dependent institution, with tuition making up 72.4% of the College’s income.

DiBenedetto proceeded to break down some new costs in the FY 2021 budget, namely student support, and the college’s response to COVID-19. 

In terms of student support, the financial aid budget had to increase significantly to accommodate the grants to replace students’ summer earnings ($2.6 million) and room & board financial aid for off-campus housing ($3 million), as well as funding for SASA (Supplemental Academic Support Application), the CARES act, and other funding ($1 million). Jennifer Fondiller explained that the extension of room & board financial aid to off-campus housing was a significant cost, which is why it was not extended to all classes. She also explained the distribution of CARES act funding: all students on financial aid whose parent contribution is less than $20,000–about 530 students– received $1200. Additionally, Barnard matched this $1200 sum in distribution to DACA students.

In addition to student support, the other new cost in the FY 2021 budget was Barnard’s COVID-19 response. Over $5 million went towards COVID-19 testing for faculty, students, and staff, for the fall, spring, and summer semesters. DiBenedetto explained that many colleges have different procedures regarding the frequency of testing, or the availability of testing to only those showing symptoms, and that these procedures are often dictated by the substantial cost of testing. 

Then, DiBenedetto explained Barnard’s endowment, which was $356.5 million as of June 30, 2019. Approximately $16 to $17 million dollars is transferred from the endowment to the operating budget each year: a sum that supports 8% of the operating budget and is mostly dedicated to financial aid. A key role of the endowment is to support Barnard both in the present and in the future. To this end, DiBenedetto emphasized the importance of intergenerational equity, meaning that current and future Barnard students will be able to benefit equally from the endowment. DiBenedetto noted a 5.8% annual growth in the endowment since FY 20111, which is due to new donors as well as market growth. Additionally, DiBenedetto compared Barnard’s relatively small endowment to those of other selective liberal arts colleges, many of which were founded on a sizable endowment that allows them to fund all financial aid. For context, Barnard can currently fund only 20% of financial aid from the endowment. (President Beilock said it best in last week’s SGA meeting: “Barnard was founded on an idea, not an endowment”.)

In closing, DiBenedetto addressed student concerns about financial aid with work on a financial aid literacy project in conjunction with both the financial aid office and the bursar. This project will be in part a glossary, for answers to common questions, as well as a directory, for guiding students to the proper channels of communication. DiBenedetto hopes to receive student input on what specifically might not be clear about their financial aid award letter, or their term bill. 

The first question came from Tirzah Anderson BC ‘21, SGA President, who asked whether certain policies implemented during the pandemic would stay in place even after the pandemic. She specifically mentioned the ability to use financial aid for room and board for off-campus housing, and how helpful that would be for transfer students who don’t have guaranteed housing, as well as the summer earnings replacement, which would help support students with unpaid internships. Fondiller stated teat these policies have had significant costs, but that they are willing to discuss continuing these policies. In regards to housing, Fondiller noted the recent acquisition of the 121st residence hall, which could allow the College to house more students (under non-pandemic conditions). 

Krystal Zhou BC ’22, Representative for Student Development, asked DiBenedetto to break down the costs associated with supporting remote learning, which accounted for $2 million of the operating budget. She noted that students might assume that remote learning is less expensive, and thus tuition should be lowered. DiBenedetto explained the costs of providing equipment for both students and faculty members in their homes. Additionally, she mentioned this summer’s classroom renovations, which allow for hy-flex education. DiBenedetto also noted that faculty salaries, which constitute the largest portion of the budget, remained flat for this year. 

Bex Allen BC ‘21, Representative for Academic Affairs, asked about the College’s decision to add a summer semester to the 2020-2021 academic year, and how financial aid was taken into account in making this decision. DiBenedetto explained that the summer semester is designed to give students flexibility in taking courses. The decision about a summer semester was made this spring when there was still uncertainty about what the coming academic year would look like, particularly whether students would be able to handle a normal course load in a remote setting. 

Avalon Fenster BC ‘24, First-Year Class President, asked for more details about the form of the financial aid literacy project, and when it would be put into action. DiBenedetto answered that they hoped to collaborate with students on the project in the spring semester, starting with DiBenedetto’s standing weekly meeting with Danielle Hopkins BC ‘21, VP for Finance. As to the form of the project, DiBenedetto suggested a clear flowchart to answer common questions, and give students information about where to go for other resources. Fondiller stated that the project would be housed on the financial aid website. The website is currently very outward-facing, to help prospective students, and Fondiller hoped that this project could be helpful for both prospective students and current students. 

Solace Mensah-Narh BC ‘21, VP for Equity, asked why the bursar bill is not itemized like the financial aid award letter. DiBenedetto responded that the financial aid office and the billing office are on two different systems that might not allow for itemization in the same way. However, she hoped that the financial aid literacy project could help students connect what’s on their financial aid award letter to what’s on their bill from the bursar

Tirzah asked if there has been any further discussion in the financial aid office about making Barnard loan-free. (SGA had previously discussed this with Read and DiLauro last year). Tirzah noted that Barnard’s peer institutions have been able to reduce student loans or go entire loan-free, although she stated that this might be due to their larger endowments. DiBenedetto affirmed that the College’s ability to go loan-free would require a much larger endowment, and until the endowment increases, the conversation about going loan-free will have to wait. To that, Tirzah asked what steps are necessary to increase the endowment. DiBenedetto responded that endowment growth happens in two ways. The first is new gifts, which are paid out to Barnard over 5 years, and the second is market growth, which could be hampered by the pandemic. DiBenedetto noted that donors can specifically restrict their gifts to financial aid, as a way to ensure that fewer Barnard students have to take out loans. 

Barnard Gates via Bwog Archives