By Caleb Smith
Starting with the 2016-17 academic year, Stanford will begin providing some low-income freshmen with $2,000 “welcome grants” to help with the transition to college. These grants will be provided to domestic students from families without any expected parent contribution to the cost of a Stanford education. This will be the first year the grants are offered to low-income students and follows a similar grant program at Harvard.
“We decided, yes, we should go ahead and do this, after we saw Harvard’s investment,” said Stanford Director of Financial Aid Karen Cooper. “We did not want to see students with decisions about where they go to school simply based on dollars.”
“We were all very, very excited to hear that Stanford would be taking [the grant program] on,” said Sydney Osifeso ’17, the chair of the advocacy committee for the First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP).
Osifeso said her own experiences demonstrated the need for the new grant.
“The summer before coming to Stanford was particularly difficult,” Osifeso said. “I had to work a lot in order to save up for coming into Stanford. I had expenses — I needed a laptop, I needed a comforter, all these things for my dorm room — but I didn’t really have the resources to pay for that. And so I think that this money will be really useful in aiding that process and making it a lot less stressful. I think a lot of people were really excited to come to Stanford, but I was more stressed out about how I was going to pay for things. So I am excited to hear [that] a lot of students won’t have that burden any more.”
According to Cooper, the money will be disbursed in three segments. The first $1,000 will be provided before students arrive. $500 will be provided at the start of each of the winter and spring quarters. Cooper thought the funding might be used on transportation expenses, bedsheets, bicycles and laptops. Cooper said the funding would be provided via direct deposit.
The Financial Aid Office has partnered with the Diversity and First-Generation Office to create a video in which current students give advice to incoming students on what they should and should not spend the money on. According to Cooper, the First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP) helped with the video. There will also be virtual office hours over the summer for students to discuss financial aid-related matters.
The $2,000 will not be disbursed in a single sum due to concerns over students’ budgeting skills. Cooper said students might not be able to properly space out spending on the grant and recommended cashcourse.org as a tool for learning about budgeting and financial literacy. Osifeso agreed that the grant should be broken up, noting that financial literacy was a challenge in the first-generation low-income community.
Osifeso approved of the size of the grant but thought it would be wise to prorate it based on the distance students travel to get to Stanford.
The Stanford administration is still debating how to help low-income international students, who won’t be subject to the new grant. For several years, international students were given gift cards to help tide the new arrivals over until the start of the quarter. Extra funding was also made available for winter break. Cooper pointed out that it may be difficult to transfer money directly to international students because direct deposit requires an American bank account.
The Financial Aid Office has not yet addressed other forms of aid for low-income students, like providing meals for low-income students over spring break. While Cooper acknowledged the importance of this issue, she said she hoped the new grant would help pay for these meal expenses. However, Osifeso said the welcome grant should be separate from the solution helping low-income students with spring break meal expenses and said that spring break meals should be included in the room and board section of financial aid packages.
Cooper declined to discuss other future changes to Stanford’s financial aid offerings, but she expressed excitement about timing changes with the Federal Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). The changes will eventually affect what tax year is used to calculate eligibility for financial assistance. Cooper said that this meant that students would in the future be able to get a more precise financial aid offering rather than an estimate.
When asked her opinion of what the next frontier of financial aid would be, Osifeso said that FLIP has been having early internal conversations about the student contribution to their Stanford education. The student contribution is a $5,000 sum that students are expected to pay to the University, separate from the expected parent contribution.
“A lot of folks, myself included, send money home to support our families. And that is something that is not included in our financial aid package,” Osifeso said. “I think just having more nuanced financial aid would be helpful.”
Contact Caleb Smith at caleb17 ‘at’ stanford.edu.