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Students talk financial aid challenges

Channing Wang / Thresher

By Marie Valera     11/1/23 12:33am

Rice has joined over 360 colleges in the United States in making a commitment to financial aid transparency, according to a news release from the Office of Public Affairs. The announcement says Rice reaffirms its commitment to remaining a loan-free institution. 

Paul Negrete, the executive director of university financial aid services, wrote in an email to the Thresher that the Rice Investment continues to support and open opportunities for students. The Rice Investment, launched in 2019, offers full tuition, fees and room and board for families with “typical assets” who make less than $75,000, full tuition for families making $75,000-$140,000 and half tuition for families making $140,000-$200,000.

“The Rice Investment and our commitment to meeting 100% of demonstrated need with loan-free financial aid are at the center of one of the most generous financial aid policies in the nation,” Negrete said. “With such a generous financial aid policy, Rice is more affordable and opens doors to students so that cost is not prohibitive.”

However, some students say they have had mixed experiences with Rice’s financial aid system. According to Kimberly Dorsey, a Brown College junior, the financial aid office was unresponsive and lacked transparency during her financial aid process. 

“I had to call [the financial aid office] several times. They didn’t notify me when I needed to upload additional requirements. It was very frustrating,” Dorsey said. “I submitted all my requirements by February, and then they added an extra requirement. Since I didn’t meet that extra requirement by the deadline, all of a sudden, [they said] ‘We’ll get back to you when we get back to you.’” 

Negrete told the Thresher that because of the complicated and personalized nature of the financial aid process, it can delay responses and prompt the office to request additional documents from students. 

“More complex income situations may require additional documentation,” Negrete wrote. “In other cases, we may request certain documents when a FAFSA has been selected for federal verification. Our goal is to provide a prompt response and accurate information. We are working to improve response time. However, even what appears to be a simple financial aid question can have other complexities which require additional time to research and reply.” 

America Malacara, a senior at Sid Richardson College, said that even though her financial aid package was able to cover many of her expenses at Rice, her financial situation still presents challenges for her educational goals.

“Seeing just how expensive rent and groceries are has definitely made me prioritize my paid work over school at times, and it most certainly has made me reconsider my career goals,” Malacara wrote in an email to the Thresher. “It would be very inaccurate to say that [financial aid] has been an enjoyable part of my experience. I would consider it more of a survival tactic.”

Kai Hung, a senior at Brown, said that financial aid has been essential to his overall experience at Rice. 

“[My] financial aid package often … includes a little bit extra for living expenses … it’s always helpful,” Hung said. “I think if I was in a position where I feel like I had to ask home for money to cover for expenses, I would feel the sense of guilt that I would start picking up campus jobs that doesn’t really align with my goals … Financial aid has allowed me to be more in charge of how my time is spent.” 

Malacara said that more support for first generation low-income parents may improve the financial aid process at Rice. 

“I saw how helpful it was to have someone from the Office of Financial Aid present at one of the parent sessions during Owl Access,” Malacara said.

Negrete said that demand for need-based aid has been stable over the past several years, and Rice does not expect to change its financial aid process currently. 

“About 70% of undergraduate students [apply] for financial aid at Rice each year,” Negrete wrote. “At this time, we do not anticipate changes to the current financial aid system from an increased student population.”

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