Student Financial Services needs to get its act together

PHOTO COURTESY OF CARLETON.EDU  Smith Financial Services needs to make their system more reliable and accessible for students, says Elizabeth Powell ’19.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CARLETON.EDU

Smith Financial Services needs to make their system more reliable and accessible for students, says Elizabeth Powell ’19.

Elizabeth Powell ’19 | Contributing Writer

Student Financial Services needs to work on a few things. Money can be a difficult topic to discuss, especially in American society — but Smith Financial Services certainly doesn’t make it any easier.

First of all, Smith Financial Services suffers from a lack of communication. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to wait days, maybe even weeks, to get replies to emails concerning important financial aid application questions. True, this could be solved by calling, but let’s be honest, it’s the 21st century, and not many people prefer talking on the phone anymore. Email is a quick way to get information, whereas a phone call requires time and planning. But this is not the only area that the office lacks communication in.  

Smith Financial Services needs to create a notification system. No one ever knows if or when their documents have been received until the office emails them back, often weeks after submitting them — and that’s only if they are missing documents. It’s entirely possible they just lost track of them.In my experience, it took about a month of back-and-forth emails this summer for them to tell me that they have all of the documents they need. Maybe it’s more of a lack of organization than a lack of communication.

Either way, when an office deals with something as important as financial aid, they need to have their act together. That’s why I say that they need to create an automatic notification system. I’m sure it’s not that hard to program an automatic email notification that says, “The student financial aid office has received (name of document) on (date).” It’s very stressful to log into Bannerweb everyday waiting for that “outstanding” to turn into a “received.”  After a week, they could send an automatic notification for “The Student Financial Aid Office has yet to receive (list of outstanding documents).” I would rather get financial aid spam than absolutely no communication at all.

Smith Financial Services also needs to stop using fees as punishment. Honestly, it’s super classist that they even have extra fees on top of regular tuition. A late fee? A student could be waiting for a loan to be authorized and then have to take out even more loans to be able to cover the late fee. There are several other hidden fees they add, such as a five-dollar fee if a transaction doesn’t go through. Of course, it’s impossible to find written evidence of these extra fees online.

God forbid you don’t get all your documents into Student Financial Services in time for the semester, and you’re left scrambling to find money to pay the absurd, full price tag just so you can take your classes and graduate on time. And once you receive your aid, you would expect the college to give you back the extra money they made you pay. Not exactly. You have to petition (beg) for them to give you back your own money. Your own money.  

If this sounds oddly specific, it’s because this is exactly what happened to me this billing cycle. I wasn’t in the country until August, and my parents are in the process of divorce, so financial aid applications this year were way more complicated than they’ve ever been.       

I’ll admit: I should have been more on top of my applications. But on the other hand, Student Financial Services should treat us like human beings — not like wallets. They made a very minimal effort to work and communicate with me on my process. I come from a middle-class background, so for me, this was not a question of if I could continue to study here (and I am privileged in that way).

But for plenty of students on campus, it is a much higher-stakes issue. Low-income students often receive the short end of the stick at this college, and financial aid is no exception.  I don’t want to speak for them, but the issue of Smith Financial Aid has been discussed several times on the Smith Memes for Bougie Teens Facebook page. No one, especially students who have already been accepted into Smith, should have to drop out for financial reasons.    

Tuition keeps getting higher and higher, and many students are getting screwed over because of it. It makes me question if this college even cares about its students. We have one of the biggest endowments in the American college system, so where on earth is this money going? Into the monstrosity that is the new Neilson? Is it being invested so that the college can just accumulate money?

Smith College has a great social justice reputation thanks to its students (and some professors). Admin, however, just does not care, and they’ve demonstrated their apathy by refusing to work harder for economic justice.