Financial aid reduced, College cites lower attendance costs

by Marco Allen | 4/2/20 3:00am

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by Adrian Russian / The Dartmouth

In various communications to the Dartmouth community in the weeks since the COVID-19 outbreak began — including during the March 18 virtual town hall — the College promised to increase financial aid this term. Many aid recipients, however, have seen decreased aid packages, which the College has said reflects this term’s lack of room and board costs.

Many students have seen reductions of about $3,000 in their aid, which director of financial aid Dino Koff said are due to lower costs for the remote term. Some students, however, worry the aid reduction fails to account for off-campus food and housing costs.

According to Koff, the net price of attendance for all Dartmouth students, regardless of whether they receive financial aid, has gone down for the spring term. He explained that because the term is being conducted remotely, room and board costs, as well as the health access fee and the student activity fee, have been waived. For most students who would have lived on campus, this has resulted in a cost-of-attendance reduction between $5,037 and $5,652, depending on which meal plan they had elected for the spring term.


Courtesy of director of financial aid Dino Koff


To account for this decrease, Koff explained, financial aid has also been reduced. Financial aid for eligible students has been cut by $2,839 due to the lower living costs incurred by many students this spring, though Koff noted that some students got refunds if they were considered “high need.” In combination with lower costs of attendance, this means that many students on aid will pay between $2,198 and $2,813 less to attend Dartmouth.

Koff wrote that financial aid awards include a housing allowance of $1,083 and a food allowance of $1,550 to cover cost of living during the remote term. He said that awards also include a $180 allowance for internet usage.

Some students, however, have said that their living costs have not decreased enough to offset the financial aid reductions this term.

May Fahrenthold ’22, for example, said that her family has additional food expenses now that she is home. She added that many students are not living at home, or their families cannot afford to cover their housing and food costs — something she said the College may not be fully taking into account.

Koff acknowledged that students are facing housing and food costs at home but said that these costs should not be as high as the costs at Dartmouth. This difference, he said, is why $1,083 and $1,550 have been allocated for housing and food, respectively, while during a normal term these values would be higher.

Koff emphasized that the College did not cut aid “dollar for dollar,” meaning that they did not cut aid offers by the full amount that attendance costs have been lowered.

“Families are paying less, and then for some families [of] low income students, they’re not paying anything and are actually getting a significant refund back,” he said.

He added that the financial aid office is in contact with students living independently from their families about rent costs.

Juanita Morales ’21 voiced concerns about the impact of the loss of work-study jobs on many students’ financial situations. Because she previously held a work-study job that she knew could not be done remotely, Morales has now sought part-time employment as a cashier.

“There are people who rely heavily on that [work-study] money, and they don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. 

Koff said he hoped that students who want to work are still able to find a job through remote offerings and added that the College is working on developing payment strategies for work-study students based on their incomes from past terms.

Meanwhile, the College has called on alumni to continue supporting their alma mater.

In a March 30 email sent to alumni, Dartmouth College Fund committee chair Catherine Craighead Briggs ’88 wrote, “Dartmouth gave more aid to students whose spring term starts today. Frankly, most colleges do not have the flexibility to do this. But Dartmouth does. The reason: continued alumni support.”

In response to the increased financial burden the remote term presents for students, Dartmouth has established an emergency student relief fund, encouraging donors to give to the College in an effort to “triple funds available for emergencies and unforeseen burdens not met through Dartmouth financial aid.”

Fahrenthold said that she felt that statements from the College explicitly claiming “increases” in financial aid were “fishy” and “defensive,” given that, while attendance costs have gone down, Dartmouth is also allocating less aid to students.

“It sounds less like they are on the side of students that they are trying to advocate for and more that they are trying to justify or get away with something,” she said.

The communication with alumni followed a campus-wide email sent on March 27 by College President Phil Hanlon concerning Dartmouth’s financial situation. In the email, Hanlon noted the increased demand for financial aid and highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on Dartmouth’s own finances.

He wrote that the College has seen, and will continue to see, declines in revenue streams including room and board payments, philanthropy and institutional investments. He said that while the College has reserve funds that will help mitigate the immediate effects of a recession, it will be necessary to “take additional steps to meet the immediate financial challenges [Dartmouth is] facing.”

Fahrenthold said that after reading the email, she felt as though the College had chosen to focus on “where they can save the most money” and questioned whether administrators’ “hearts were in the right place.”

Both Fahrenthold and Morales, however, expressed understanding of the new financial situation in which Dartmouth finds itself. Morales categorized the impacts of the virus as “completely uncharted territory.”

Fahrenthold added that the effects of COVID-19 might be felt long beyond this term. She said that since unemployment is expected to rise nationwide, and because financial aid at Dartmouth is based on tax returns filed two years ago, the College will need to take situational changes created by the virus into consideration in the future.

“When Dartmouth talks about changing aid, it's not just changing aid for this year, it needs to affect the upcoming years as well,” she said.

Koff said that the financial aid office does not know how the situation will affect aid in the future, but he noted that he expected “a major amount” of appeals in 2021.

“The goal is that we get more information on where we are going,” Koff said, adding that if there is a recession, the College will give out more aid.

Correction appended (April 2, 2020): A previous version of this article misspelled Fahrenthold. The article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling.