Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 30, 2022

Complicated financial aid process worries undergraduates

By WILL ANDERSON | April 30, 2015

With poor communication and ISIS holds, many Hopkins students are worried and frustrated with the financial aid process.

John McLaughlin spoke of his experiences as a freshman who receives financial aid.

“Before registration I called the financial aid office, and I was told that I needed to talk to the billing office, and they sent me back to the financial aid office,” McLaughlin said. “I was very worried that I would not be able to pick out courses for next semester.”

The Office of Student Financial Services, located in Garland Hall, handles all facets of financial aid including federal programs, private scholarships and University-granted need-based aid.

Tuition at Hopkins for the 2014-2015 school year is $47,060, an increase of 3.5 percent from the previous year.

In real terms, tuition has increased by $20,121.74 in the last 15 years. When the members of the Class of 2015 were freshmen in 2011, tuition was $42,280 and has increased $4,780 in total. Between the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years alone, tuition increased by 7.2 percent.

Forty-four percent of Hopkins freshmen receive need-based financial aid, with an average package of over $37,000. Eighty-eight percent of students with families whose incomes are less than $200,000 receive aid.

For the 2013-2014 school year, Hopkins tuition was 86 percent more expensive than the average four-year nonprofit college.

Despite the generous need-based financial aid and merit-based scholarships that many students receive, many like McLaughlin and senior Brooke-Logann Williams still have a difficult time paying for Hopkins.

McLaughlin is a Bloomberg Scholar, a need-based grant provided through funds given by alumnus and former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg.

It would have cost McLaughlin $7,000 more to attend Pennsylvania State University in his home state because of need-based aid he received from Hopkins. However, he still questions the high cost of attending Hopkins.

“I really don’t know where the money is going, maybe new buildings or initiatives,” he said. “I find it interesting that tuition is around the same for all major universities.”

Williams discussed her experience with the financial aid office as a Baltimore Scholar and praised her officer, Dr. Benedict A. Dorsey, a founder of Baltimore Scholars and former senior associate director at the Office of SFS, who resigned recently for an undisclosed reason.

“Especially for those of us who are first-generation college students or from backgrounds that are of lower socioeconomic status, he’s really been a mentor and advocate for us on campus,” Williams said.

Her tuition is fully covered by Baltimore Scholars.

“If you’d asked me six or seven years ago if I think I’d be going to Hopkins, I would have laughed right in your face,” Williams said. “I’m a first-generation college student, and it was all so new and large and intimidating for me. Finding Baltimore Scholars was finding a second home on campus.”

She explained that she still has to worry about paying for books and her apartment.

She stressed that the financial aid process can be difficult to navigate.

“The financial aid office is Hopkins’s bureaucracy of a sort, and as such, it can be really sometimes inaccessible and overwhelming to many students. Dr. Dorsey built a safe space for many of us. He put a face to the financial aid packages,” Williams said.

Williams identified the core problem of the office as its communications and accessibility.

“I think it’s the red tape and the bureaucracy. I’m a second semester senior, and I didn’t know when I contacted the office about an issue that I had been assigned a new financial aid officer,” she said.

Williams described her experiences with holds on her ISIS account, which are often placed because of unreleased funds. They make it difficult for many students who rely on financial aid to register for classes.

“When you’re back is up against the wall, the semester is approaching... not knowing if you can pick out your classes out on time because you have holds on your account, that’s so scary,” Williams said. “I have no control over when the funds are released.”

McLaughlin also had issues with ISIS.

“Generally it’s been difficult. There’s been a lot of bureaucracy for me trying to do things that I thought were rather simple,” he said. “I was told by my financial aid officer that you fill out this form and then give it to the financial aid office and then you’re set. I didn’t realize there’s a to-do list on the ISIS tab, and there’s a lot to do there.”

Williams suggested the creation of a new financial aid administrative position.

“Maybe if there were a student-financial aid liaison, someone else who could sit back and say, ‘This is what you should know,’ especially for vulnerable groups like first-generation college students,” she said.

Many students have issues with the federal financial aid program, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), including time-out windows on the site and a large volume of paperwork.

“FAFSA doesn’t necessarily take into account a lot of people’s backgrounds. For example, people may not have a close relationship with both of their parents, but with FAFSA you have to give them detailed information about both parents,” Williams said.

McLaughlin questioned whether the Office of Student Financial Services has any real power in aid decisions:

“Is there anything you can really do for us? Why are we being put under these circumstances? Because it’s really terrifying and it definitely puts students from a lower socioeconomic status at risk.”

Williams detailed one of her own difficult experiences with financial aid at Hopkins.

“I was on the phone crying with my financial aid officer because I may not be able to get in touch with [my father] to get this information, and I have all these holds on my account,” Williams said. “Your aid may decrease, and that is just so scary.”

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