SCOTT: Make Student Financial Services more accessible

Student Financial Services could be doing more to increase accessibility, particularly for those who rely on their services most

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Instead of having a convenient location on Central Grounds that students could easily visit between classes, its only office is in Carruthers Hall,  located across from Barracks Shopping Center.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

One of the most important problems college students face is debt. Indeed, it is not uncommon for graduates to be facing tens of thousands of dollars of debt by the time they walk the Lawn for Final Exercises. An important tool in dealing with this problem is Student Financial Services. SFS can help students apply for financial aid, understand their financial aid bundle and learn how to minimize the amount of debt that they will have to take out. Due to the importance of SFS to students, it should be as accessible as possible. This, however, is not the case. 

Instead of having a convenient location on Central Grounds that students could easily visit between classes, its only office is in Carruthers Hall,  located across from Barracks Shopping Center. Because the location is so far away from other University-related buildings, students are disincentivized from going to SFS. Furthermore, the poorly-situated SFS office is particularly onerous for first-year students, who live further away from SFS than most students and cannot have a car on Grounds. This is even more concerning given that first-years likely need financial advice more than other students as they deal with financial aid, loans and grants for the first time. From personal experience and from talking to other students, I know that it often takes a couple emails from SFS threatening to unenroll a student from classes before they will begrudgingly go to the SFS office to resolve the issue. This should not be the case. Students should be encouraged to go to SFS to increase their financial awareness and ensure that they are making the best decisions for their future.

One could argue that other methods of contacting SFS, such as calling or emailing, provide a sufficient level of accessibility, but I disagree. These forms of communication may be helpful when a student only needs to submit a form or ask a simple question, but beyond that they prove to be less than useful, lacking the same degree of interaction that face-to-face meetings have — one that is required for more complex issues. In an in-person meeting, the financial aid administrator can sit down with a student and explain, in detail, each piece of that person’s financial aid package with them. It is much harder to do so over the phone or via email, which can often lead to miscommunications between SFS and students.

Fortunately, there are many potential solutions to this problem. Ideally, these solutions would include either changing the location of SFS or opening a satellite office similar to the Career Center’s office in Newcomb 170. However, these solutions could be costly, time intensive and logistically difficult. As such, it would be unlikely to ever actually happen. Instead, I propose that SFS holds weekly office hours at a centrally located building during which students could come and talk with a financial aid administrator about loans, grants, scholarships or anything else relating to SFS. I believe that this would lead to an increased level of interaction between students and SFS while being neither costly nor time intensive nor logistically difficult. I further believe that this action will lead to more thoughtful, well-informed decision-making on one of the most important aspects of college. Moreover, the frequency and duration of office hours can be easily adapted to mirror the demand of the students, for example increasing it as students are submitting FAFSA applications and decreasing it during slow periods.

All in all, SFS provides valuable services to students of the University, but these services are far away from most students, especially for those that are most likely to have questions about financial aid. Thus, students are discouraged from seeking help from SFS. Finally, I believe the simple addition of SFS office hours in a centrally located area will help alleviate these concerns and create a better relationship between students and SFS.

Gavin Scott is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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