UM must communicate consequential financial changes with students

Photo credit: Roberta Macedo

The University of Miami has updated its financial aid terms and conditions to comply with federal aid requirements. This update will take state and federal aid away from students who take classes outside their primary degree, potentially affecting the 28% of UM students who receive federal loans, according to the Department of Education.

It’s a significant change that will cost select students thousands of dollars they weren’t prepared to spend. Yet, no email was sent from the University to the general student body informing them of the update required under the Federal Aid Course Audit.

Notices have exclusively been sent to students who were already in violation of the “terms and conditions” of their aid, something they had known nothing about. More concerning is that no university-wide forewarning has been sent to students who might violate these new terms in their final semesters at UM after surpassing the 120 credit graduate requirement.

In my case, I received an email warning that I was in violation of the University’s financial aid policies while sitting in class. Like anyone reading an email that threatens to cut the aid and scholarship they need to be a student, my stomach did about three somersaults.

So, I started asking a lot of questions.

It took an advisor appointment, a call with ‘Canes Central, two discussions with professors, a conversation with Provost Guillermo Prado, a voicemail to Daniel Barkowitz, the Assistant Vice President in the Office of Student Financial Assistance & Student Employment and one final phone call with Barkowitz to get an answer to my questions. Along the way, I was told a variety of information: that my entire scholarship was in jeopardy, that I would have to retroactively file cases with the Office of Financial Aid for each class that I was charged for and that it did not impact me. All of this turned out to be wrong.

In the end, we determined I would lose approximately $5,000 of aid from my Bright Futures Scholarship, since it would only qualify to cover the remaining two classes in my major requirements.

This $5,000 cut isn’t enough to make me graduate early, but does take away about three months of rent money. Other students are set to lose a considerable amount more and they deserve a clear explanation of what this new policy entails and why it has changed.

UM has an obligation and responsibility to share this consequential information with all of its students. To neglect a fully transparent approach violates the unspoken contract between students and the University of supporting one another.

When the Free Application for Federal Student Aid changed its application process, the Office of Financial Aid held information sessions for students and their families to help them understand and adjust to the change. UM needs to do the same for the new FACA standards.

This information is critical not only for students trying to complete their degrees on federal aid, but also for those who came to UM on the assumption that they could easily double or triple major.

The ability to take on many majors has been a selling point of UM for years. When I received my admission offer as a Foote Fellow I was encouraged to take on as many majors or minors as I wanted. In one early Zoom information session, a student ambassador proudly announced he was taking four majors. It was one of the main reasons why I chose UM.

If this school can no longer allow students to take on federally-funded ambitious schedules, they deserve to know and not find out until they are already in violation of the rules.