September 5, 2019
Ethan Tan’s opinion piece, “USF is Beginning to Feel Like an Impossible Dream,” in the Aug. 29 edition of the Foghorn raises important questions about our financial aid processes and philosophy. I’m writing to respond to his questions and to share some additional information and insights about financial aid at USF.
Mr. Tan asks if USF is providing “cushy” institutional aid packages to new students at the expense of returning students. Simply put, no. New students this fall received institutional aid awards similar to those that returning students received when they enrolled. I suspect few, if any, of these new students would describe their institutional aid award as “cushy.”
While this year’s institutional financial aid budget of $125 million is generous, it falls far short of meeting the needs of all students. For example, the 20 percent increase in institutional grant aid for fiscal year 2020 does not result from increases in these grants but from maintaining them at previous years’ levels. Raising funds for student aid is a priority of USF’s current campaign, representing $100 million of the $300 million overall campaign goal. Still, there will still be a significant shortfall between our institutional aid resources and the needs of students, a challenging gap that requires nearly every student and family to make sacrifices to afford a USF education.
Mr. Tan notes USF’s success with enrolling first-generation and low-income students, and asserts that the “University has shown me that it doesn’t care about the middle-income students.” In fact, middle-income students make up the majority of students at USF and receive the majority of USF’s institutional aid. Nevertheless, given the gap between need and resources, middle-income students at USF face real financial challenges. For many, a combination of grant resources – federal, state, and institutional – plus loans and work make a USF education possible. Unfortunately, our limited institutional grant resources do not allow for replacing state or federal grant funds with USF grant money when a student’s financial situation changes.
In fact, middle-income students make up the majority of students at USF and receive the majority of USF’s institutional aid. Nevertheless, given the gap between need and resources, middle-income students at USF face real financial challenges.
Finally, Mr. Tan identified problems he and other students faced in getting timely responses from the Financial Aid Office this summer. Summer is the busiest part of the year in Student Financial Services as we work to help approximately 10,000 USF students identify a financial path to attend or return to school. This summer’s construction work in Lone Mountain complicated our efforts and in some instances slowed response times. I am sorry that Mr. Tan and others waited longer than they should have to receive responses to their inquiries. As we work diligently to improve our service to students, please know that we did carefully review all requests this summer and ultimately awarded all available institutional aid for which a particular student qualified.
Please know that the staff in the Financial Aid Office is committed to doing everything we can to help make a USF education affordable for each and every USF student.
Assistant Vice Provost, Student Financial Services