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story | Avani Adhikari, Staff Editor
photo | Terence Wang
Students this semester have experienced a variety of problems with their financial aid packages. Among the many complaints, students reported instances of having to pay back their book allowances, as well as receiving less financial aid this year even when family financial status remained the same.
Furthermore, many incoming first-year students felt that there was a lack of information provided regarding the Student Effort Contribution (SEC). Implemented last year, the SEC is a program under which students receiving need-based study awards pay $1,500 of their annual school fees through on or off campus jobs.
The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid looked into these reports and worked with the affected students to help solve these issues. According to Suan Yew Chim, Associate Director of Financial Aid, “all students who matriculated from the 2018/19 academic year onwards and receive need-based financial aid have the SEC as part of their financial aid package.”
While there have been no changes to the structure of SEC this academic year, Mr. Chim said that the Financial Aid Office has made financial aid advice more accessible by briefing Assistant Deans, Dean’s Fellows and Residential College Advisors so that they are well-equipped to advise students on issues related to the SEC. Mr. Chim reiterated that students with questions are always welcome to approach them. Students who are unable to pay the SEC before the end of the billing cycle can work with Student Services on individualized payment plans, said Mr. Chim.
Currently, the Financial Aid Office does not have information on how many students pay their SEC through on-campus employment. Established this year, the Student Government Standing Committee on Financial Accessibility hopes “to identify the extent to which students are unable to cope with the SEC due to the lack of jobs.” Nur Hazeem Abdul Nasser ’22, Student Government Vice President, said that the Standing Committee aims to be a centralized platform for students to share their experiences and feedback.
The committee is structured around three main teams: Jobs Analytics, External Jobs, and Feedback. Together, the Standing Committee hopes to “create a comprehensive job guide that helps students gain external part-time employment”, which “will cover key Ministry of Manpower regulations as well as link-ups with opportunities in the National University of Singapore (NUS).”
With regards to reports of inconsistent financial aid packages for upperclassmen, the Financial Aid Office states, “The form of review is uniformly applied across all four years of enrollment for each student intake. However, changes in family financial circumstances are considered each year, which contribute to changes in the financial aid package. The way it’s calculated does not change.”
For example, though the family income might not have changed a lot, a little increase might put the student in a different need bracket. Or, though a student’s income hasn’t changed, a graduating sibling or fewer dependents might decrease the amount of financial aid received.
The Financial Aid Office acknowledged reports of students being asked to pay back $300 and stated that this amount is not the book allowance, but part of the bill underpaid by the student.
This problem arose due to issues with the EduRec Bill Payment system. Currently, Yale-NUS College uses EduRec as a payment platform only. That means that while regular deduction from the student bill – such as from study grants or scholarships – will be made automatically, it will not disburse external amount such as for book allowance.
Yet, because the book allowance is outlined in the student financial aid letter, the EduRec software immediately processes it as a net off from the final amount. The Office of Financial Aid fixed this error when it disbursed the book allowance. For students who paid their bill before the disbursement, it meant that they paid $300 less for their school fees.
Additionally, the $300 was automatically disbursed to everyone, and students who had underpaid $300 had an additional $300 in their bank account. Students being asked to pay back $300 hence weren’t being asked to pay back their book allowance, but rather pay the amount that they had previously underpaid.
“We understand that this might have caused confusion for some students and are therefore preparing a FAQ.” said Mr. Chim.
The Financial Aid Office states that this problem will exist as long as we use NUS’ billing system, and that they can only try to mitigate the effects.
One solution would be to transfer the book allowance as early as possible. However, some situations, such as first-years without a bank account, delay the process.
This year, there were significant delays to disburse the book allowance, as many first-years were unable to make bank accounts due to delays at the bank. The Financial Aid Office is aware of this issue and is waiting with the students for their allowance to be transferred after their account has been processed.