Matt Howe (3L)
On Monday, February 22, the Students’ Law Society (SLS) hosted a town hall meeting on tuition and financial aid. The meeting was led by the three SLS members sitting on the Dean’s Committee on Financial Aid: President Andrew Wang, 2L Student Affairs and Governance (StAG) rep Dillon Collett, and 1L StAG rep Katie Longo. The SLS reps said that the goal of the meeting was to canvass student opinion to inform their advocacy on the committee and in interactions with the administration.
Discussion floated between a number of related issues. One focus was the distribution of the financial aid pot. Students whose parents earn up to $200,000 per year may be eligible for aid. Given the limited funds available, many students in attendance expressed a preference that distribution be focused more on students with parents at the lower end of the income scale. One student remarked: “I know a bunch of people who get like $700 [given their parent’s relatively high incomes]. It’s silly. There are a bunch of people who need it more.”
Several students also called for a more progressive division of bursaries versus loans, such that lower-income students receive a higher proportion of their aid in the form of bursaries while better-off students would get more money via interest payments on loans.
Students debated how to measure need. Several argued that a “needs-based” financial aid program, which our Faculty is committed to, must take into account parental assets, not just income. Some raised concerns that parents should not have to “sell their homes so their children can access financial aid.” Others responded that parents owning a home or homes can draw on the equity, while parents who rent do not have this option. There was also a discussion on whether and how the financial aid program should consider pre law school debt.
Other issues relating to the financial aid policy were discussed, including the haphazard emergency loan program, uncertainty in the appeals process, and inaccuracies in the Faculty’s messaging around its aid program. The town-hall heard from several students who had relied on a “provisional assessment” of their entitlement to aid, only to later learn that they would actually be receiving far less.
The discussion ultimately moved towards the Faculty’s upcoming fundraising campaign for student financial aid. Some noted that criticism from students during the campaign could generate poor optics for the Faculty, which may give students leverage to push for changes.
One change might be the amount of tuition revenue the Faculty currently sets aside for financial aid. A handout distributed by the SLS noted that when the Faculty began its drastic tuition increases, it promised to set aside 30% of the yearly increase in tuition for needs-based financial aid. This commitment appears to have been abandoned, with the set-aside currently around 10%.
Students also levied more general criticisms at the fundraising campaign, which is in a “quiet phase” and has no plan or targets. Many students stressed the need for measurable fundraising goals and meaningful objectives. Some thought that the campaign might enable the school to redirect other revenue away from financial aid. Others simply did not feel we should be relying primarily on wealthy donors in order to foster accessibility at the law school.
Evan Davidson, the Vice President of StAG for SLS, cautioned against vocally protesting the campaign at this point. He pointed out that the Faculty has just wrapped up a major fundraising campaign for the new building, and that they are understandably concerned with donor fatigue. “They’ll probably have more concrete goalposts later,” said Davidson. “[The quietness of the campaign] may actually be what needs to happen right now.”
Others disagreed. One student noted that “closed door meetings have not necessarily been effective” at solving any problems relating to financial aid and tuition thus far.