Editorial: Expand Summer Savings Replacement Grants in Financial Aid Packages| Nov 19, 2015
Since the University pioneered a loan-free financial aid program in 2001, the University has acquired a reputation for its generous financial aid program that now includes approximately 60 percent of undergraduates. A standard part of Princeton’s aid package, however, is the summer savings requirement. Currently, the University will cover up to half of this component of a financial aid package if a student cannot earn enough money to meet it; however, the other half must come from an alternate source. The Board calls on the University to waive the summer savings expectation completely for students who pursue internships or other opportunities that are unpaid. Students who earn income insufficient to cover their obligation should have the shortfall covered in full. Additionally, the University should better publicize the availability of summer savings replacement grants to students on financial aid both in the spring and fall.
University aid packages contain a significant summer savings expectation. According to the Undergraduate Financial Aid Office, the expected summer contribution is $1,600 for freshmen and $2,600 for all other students. For students with low-income household incomes, it drops to $1,100 and $2,100, respectively. This calculation is based on the expectation that a student will work a thirty-five hour work week for twelve weeks at a wage of $8.50 per hour, subtracting approximately $1,000 for personal and living expenses. The existing grant program covers up to half of the full expectation for students unable to meet it, leaving $1,300 or $1,050 uncovered for returning students.
Because the expectation is subtracted from a student’s calculated financial need, the University demands as much as $1,300 from students who, according to the financial aid formula, are not able to afford it. Many students hurt by this policy already work campus jobs as part of their aid package. As a result, there are few remaining options for covering summer savings expectation short of tapping into family savings or taking out a loan. This is incredibly problematic and disproportionately hurts students already at a disadvantage because of their economic background. To fulfill its commitment to low-income students through a loan-free financial aid program, the University should address the issue.
The existing summer savings replacement grant program should be expanded to completely cover the contribution for students who pursue unpaid internships or other opportunities. Additionally, it should cover any shortfall for students who earn less than the contribution amount over the summer. This policy change removes any disincentive to pursue valuable unpaid opportunities, as students will no longer will be burdened by the obligation to pay $1,000 plus shortfall after the replacement grant is applied. Also, it is illogical to expect students to cover half the contribution if they are working 10-12 weeks of Princeton’s 15-16 week summer at an unpaid internship. For students working for a significant portion of the summer, replacement aid should cover the entire shortfall in order to avoid burdening students with a loan or a greater campus job workload.
In order for this policy to be effective, the Undergraduate Financial Aid Office needs to publicize the availability of summer savings replacement grants. Emails or other communications should be sent to all students on financial aid both in the spring and at the start of the academic year in order to inform students about the availability of the grants. Students should also be informed about the availability of replacement grants in the aid award. This is important because students will be reminded about grant availability while considering summer opportunities and upon returning to campus from those opportunities.
In recruiting publications, the University frequently touts its loan-free financial aid policy and the many opportunities available to students, including over the summer. In order to truly live up to these fantastic aspects of Princeton, the University needs to address the issues highlighted here because they both hinder the ability of many students to complete unpaid internships and burden low-income students with college costs that could force them to take out a loan.
The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-in-Chief.