Campus cares about student financial aid

I am writing in response to the Aug. 28, 2019 Op-Ed, “Late changes in financial aid threaten student health insurance.”

The UC Berkeley Financial Aid and Scholarships office cares tremendously about the financial and personal wellness of our students. To ensure that students have adequate health coverage, as long as students do not waive the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), and they have financial need, we will cover their costs of insurance whether it is funded by the health grant or through work and loans.

We also continually partner with University Health Services to let students know of other opportunities such as the Health Opportunity Fund, which will help them with health or medical expenses and feel that resources that benefit the overall student experience here at UC Berkeley, are worth sharing. 

While the financial aid office cannot discuss individual cases because of student privacy policies and laws, I’d like to acknowledge that changes to financial aid packages can raise concern for students and share a few reasons why financial aid packages may change during the course of an academic year. 

Financial aid and scholarship awards are heavily regulated by federal, state, and institutional rules and regulations, and we are required to remain nimble and adjust packages as student circumstances change. We award nearly all of our aid on the basis of financial need, so if a family’s financial strength changes (as determined by the aid application for that year), we are required to adjust awards up or down as needed.  We also need to adjust awards once we have certain campus data related to a student’s total cost of attendance, such as whether they are living in a residence hall or enrolled in SHIP. We make our adjustments after our campus partners in Cal Housing and University Health Services have finalized their processes, and sometimes those processes are not finalized until close to the start of the term. Some of our awards also require students to meet certain academic conditions, so we may need to adjust awards if a student changes their enrollment or progress toward their degree. Students can assist us in ensuring that their aid package is as accurate as possible by submitting their financial aid application and completing their financial aid tasks for the upcoming fall during the previous spring semester. They can also update their housing status in CalCentral as soon as their financial aid package has been released.

Nearly seven out of 10 undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid and scholarships, and we take our role as a critical lifeline for students very seriously.  This year, we outpaced our performance in delivering aid to students and as of August 28, 2019, we’ve disbursed $266,862,466 in financial aid to 14,720 undergraduate students and 6,925 graduate students. On the first day of fall disbursements we had paid over $35 million more to approximately 1,399 more students than had been distributed on the same day last year. We also value our role as counselors and strive to provide guidance in a manner that is well-informed, credible, and attuned to the specific needs of each student. We are always looking for ways to improve, so feedback about how students are receiving our services is always welcome.

Cruz Grimaldo is the assistant vice chancellor and director of the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office and Cal Student Central.