Students’ reimbursements for cost of attendance for the spring 2020 semester were less than expected, as they left campus and are no longer paying for meals and housing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Courtney Cosgrove, ‘21, said she was frustrated when she checked her account to see she was only credited a $200 refund.
“I went into my financial aid award, and I was able to see that they had taken away $2,000 from my Lehigh grant,” said Cosgrove. “From my understanding, they paid themselves back for the refund.”
Jennifer Mertz, vice provost of Financial Services and director of Financial Aid, said when the school shifted to remote learning, the cost of attendance changed, which impacted financial aid.
Mertz said she wants students to better understand how the Financial Aid Office determines what is credited to their accounts.
“We take a standard room and board allowance in the cost of attendance, we subtract out that expected family contribution, and the difference is financial need or eligibility,” Mertz said. “Now, what happened is that the cost of attendance changed. It shifted because these students aren’t living on campus for the full semester, so we adjusted that cost of attendance based on half of Category I room and half of a standard meal plan, and we gave a little bit of an allowance for what we standardly give for commuters.”
Mertz said another reason students may be surprised at the refund they received is if they used more of their meal plan than they thought.
She said even though students were about half way through the semester, some students may have used 80 percent of their meal swipes, so the credit they are receiving from their meal plan may be less than expected.
Kelsey Johnson, ‘22, said she feels shorted by the Financial Aid Office.
“I’m confused why they didn’t adjust aid you need to pay back, like loans or work study first before any gift aid like the grant,” Johnson said.
Cosgrove said she didn’t understand why students who don’t rely on financial aid had no issue being refunded.
She said she thinks there is a lack of transparency between the financial aid services and the students.
“It’s frustrating that the students who probably need the most aid are receiving nothing,” Cosgrove said.
The Financial Aid Office acknowledged that students and their families may be upset, considering the uncertain state of the economy.
Mertz said the Financial Aid Office has a generous emergency aid fund, which students in need are currently being approved to receive.
Cosgrove and Johnson, along with their families, are planning on reaching out to the Financial Aid Office to go over their individual concerns with their refunds.
Mertz said the Financial Aid Office is working remotely and willing to help with these concerns.