Students see issues with financial aid

USC is well known for its steep price tag, but a great number of the students who attend the university don’t end up paying the full $64,034 bill.

Though some students receive aid through merit-based scholarships, others benefit from receiving aid in the form of university grants, federal and state grants and loans.

Trends among students have shown, however, that financial aid is not consistent for all four years.

Cynthia Wang, a sophomore majoring in biochemical engineering, is paying more for her sophomore year than she did for her freshman year.

“Even though my subsidized [loan] amount increased, the tuition and fees I need to pay also increased,” Wang said. “So I actually ended up paying more than I did last year.”

Each year, new and continuing students are expected to complete the College Scholarship Service Profile and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine their eligibility for aid in the form of university grants, the federal Pell Grant, student loans and work study.

Thomas McWhorter, dean of financial aid at USC, said the forms provide the university with a year-to-year snapshot of a family’s financial situation.

“The students apply every year and we review their circumstances,” McWhorter said. “The way we assess a financial aid package, the first thing we look at is the amount of need.”

Using the data provided from the FAFSA and CSS Profile, the university is able to calculate the estimated family contribution. It then subtracts the EFC from the cost of attendance in order to determine the family’s demonstrated need. Additional forms, like those explaining special circumstances, such as job loss or wage reduction, can also be submitted.

Despite the thorough system, there remains concern over how reflective the financial aid packages are of family situations from year to year, especially in light of changing circumstances. McWhorter said that family contribution is the amount that the student and the family must contribute.

While there might be no change in EFC, the amount the student is expected to contribute typically increases each year. The subsidized Stafford loans a student is eligible for, however, typically increase as well, starting with $3,500 as freshman and increasing to $4,500 as a sophomore and $5,500 for juniors and seniors.

“Cost of attendance may increase,” McWhorter said. “But the loan amount will increase too.”

Though the loan amount might increase, Wang said she believes that an increase in tuition should be reflected in the amount of aid students receive.

“I just wish that the amount of aid I get would be proportional to the tuition increase, so I’m paying the same each year instead of paying more and more each year,” Wang said.

The risk of being unable to pay as a result of reduced aid is a serious threat for many students currently benefiting from financial aid.

For students like Autumn Battani, a freshman majoring in psychology, financial aid was the reason they chose to come to USC.

“If I didn’t get the financial aid package I got, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it,” Battani said.

The same is true for Desmond Dizon, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering, who said a generous financial aid was a deciding factor in choosing USC, even though it was also his top choice.

In Dizon’s case, a decrease in financial aid would be a particular hardship since he is paying for college on his own.

“It’s important that I receive as much as possible because I’m paying for college with my own money,” Dizon said. “If my aid decreased, I would have to think about more loans and I’d have to work more hours over the summer to afford it.”

According to the department of financial aid, the most common reason for aid deductions is a change in family circumstances, such as an increase in salary. Additionally, there might be some reduction in the amount of grant money received in the necessary financial aid forms are submitted past the deadline.

Despite the anticipated increase in EFC, students should expect to pay from year to year, the Department of Financial Aid points out it works with students to make adjustments.

“We have the Stafford loans and private financing, though we don’t generate a lot of private loans for out students since we have pretty good financial aid packages,” McWhorter said. “We sit down with our families to see what options they have.”

Though the university aims to meet 100 percent of undergraduate students’ financial need, only 2.2 percent of undergraduate scholarship aid comes through endowment. The majority of the funds comes from the university’s unrestricted operating funds as well as other external sources such as student loans. In order to keep up with the increasing financial need among students, President C. L. Max Nikias has set a $1 billion goal for the financial aid department’s funding campaign.

“The university has a very strong commitment to the financial aid program,” McWhorter said. “We have an increase in the amount of funding, which is important since the state resources are decking and we are not sure what is going to happen with the federal Pell Grant.”

One of the present issues the $1 billion initiative hopes to address is the issue of students graduating with too many loans, a burden that could hinder their post-graduate plans. For Battani, though only a freshman, financial strains in her post-graduate future are already looming.

“I can’t do something that’s not financially possible for my family,” Battani said. “I would like to do all four years of my undergrad here, but not at the expense of being in debt for the rest of my adult life.”

Dizon, however, is optimistic. He said he is confident that he’ll be able to afford the cost of tuition without accumulating too much debt.

“I’m really appreciative of the aid I receive,” Dizon said. “I’m fully confident that I’ll be able to pay off the debt I will have acquired throughout the years because of USC’s great academic programs. It motivates me to work hard in order to afford it.”

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