On Tuesday, the Institute released the final policy regarding housing scholarships and how these funds can or cannot be used off-campus. Though there were some very encouraging decisions by the administration, I find some parts of the policy to be troubling.
First, I was thrilled to hear that the administration is planning to honor the former policy of allowing housing grants to cover the cost of a meal plan for those “who have already signed leases (as of the date of this notice).” The change in policy should have been communicated much more clearly—it’s not acceptable to hear, as you’re planning to sign a lease, the rumor that a policy regarding your financial situation has been changed and you haven’t been notified. However, I and many of my peers are greatly appreciative of the steps the administration made to soothe the effects of this last-minute communication. Allowing students who signed leases before being aware of the revised policy to retain their grants is the only logical and compassionate step. To clear up a potentially confusing point, this policy only takes effect for leases signed by February 16, the date of the new policy decision, rather than the date the policy is announced to the entire campus community.
The ability for greeks belonging to houses that have signed the Greek Life Commons Agreement to live in a greek house and continue to receive housing grants will certainly be a relief for those in the greek community. However, I find it disappointing that the administration chose to be so gracious to the greeks while allowing independent students who entered the lottery and were not assigned a room to only retain 50 percent of their scholarship. While I understand that the administration is dealing with a difficult financial decision in a hard economic time, and it will presumably present a budgetary crisis for the administration if they find themselves needing to honor all 1,346 housing grants belonging to Classes 2011–2013, this isn’t the students’ fault. The grants were awarded and many students rely on them as part of their financial aid package. I don’t know the logic behind offering full continuation of housing scholarships to greek students while only offering 50 percent to those forced off campus, but it seems to me that the networking abilities of fraternities and sororities may have played a role. I’m truly happy for my greek friends that are benefitting from this decision, but I believe that the priority should be placed on those who had no choice about whether to move off-campus rather than those who willingly chose to join a fraternity or sorority. It’s hard for those students’ voices to be heard, since they don’t have active, strong groups like the Interfraternity Council or alumni in high places to lobby for them.
Finally, I take issue with the way the introduction to the policy was worded. It reads, “‘Full cost of attendance’ is defined as the annual tuition plus room and board charges to live in Rensselaer housing and eat on the Institute meal plan. Therefore, full cost of attendance necessarily implies living in Rensselaer residence halls and eating in Rensselaer dining facilities.” This is very troubling, because the government’s definition of cost of attendance is very different. The Department of Education’s site, http://www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov/, defines Cost of Attendance as including “on-campus room and board (or a housing and food allowance for off-campus students)”—in other words, what it costs for you to live and eat at your university, necessary things whether on campus or off. The Institute’s definition is troubling, and they would do good to clarify to students why it is worded this way and how that might affect aid. After all, you need to have shelter and nourishment, no matter where you choose (or are forced) to live.