An Open Letter to Financial Aid, OSA and All Who Care

Throughout my first few months at Pace, I was surprised at the frequency with which my fellow students complained about the Financial Aid office and Office of Student Accounts (OSA). I would hear accusations of indifference and incompetence on an almost daily basis.

I had never had so much as a hiccup throughout my own experiences with those offices. Naively, I attributed my fellow classmates’ complaints to their own irresponsibility—these must simply be students who missed form deadlines, couldn’t bothered to keep track of their paperwork, or worse, lazily blamed “the system” for any misfortune that could ever befall them, right before marching off to Zuccotti Park and joining Occupy Wall Street.

In retrospect, this was an easy interpretation of the situation. To admit that, in fact, these students were hopelessly armed with children’s scissors battle through endless amounts of red tape and bureaucracy would be to admit that the school that had been so good to me thus far was inherently flawed.

With all of the complaining around me, it still took until the end of last year to see for myself how broken our system was. Watching the English department not so gracefully self-destruct was probably my first experience with how wrongly things could be handled at my beloved school. (Make no mistake, as much as I will go on to critique, Pace is still a place I love, and will continue to love coming to every day.) We all have at least a faint idea of what happened—we were all Cc’d to that accusatory and, admittedly, inflammatory email. However, the fact that the English department, a month into a new semester, is still writhing about, leaderless, speaks for itself.

But this is only a digression. The point is, I began to see my school differently last year, and my worst fears were confirmed when after a summer of vainly dealing with Financial Aid and OSA, I returned this semester to a lovely voicemail message on my phone: Your account is slated to be voided, on September such and such because of such and such reasons.

I’ll admit, arranging the transferal of tens of thousands of dollars per student is no easy task, and it is probably not made any easier by each student’s unique circumstances. There’s no question of the scope and magnitude of what these offices are faced with, but it is also not an excuse for their incompetence. Plenty of other schools across the nation manage to get the same job done, and I would venture to antagonize these offices only a little further by suggesting that they also do it more efficiently.

To the point: Throughout my dealings with these offices, I took issue with a couple of things: The laissez-faire attitude with which these offices took upon my requests, appeals, and questions, and the carelessness, harshness, and rudeness with which students visiting the Financial Aid and OSA offices are treated.

My particular situation doesn’t particularly matter—I know of plenty of other students that had the same requests, questions, and even appeals as I did. But aside from the commonality of our unique situations, the biggest common factor between our experiences was the negative treatment we received almost daily at the hands of offices that are meant to be an aid and resource for students.

There is absolutely no reason why a student should leave any office in this institution on the verge of tears of frustration, as was the case with myself on more than one occasion after visiting Financial Aid and OSA. (I’ll defend my masculinity by saying that I don’t cry often. I promise.) And there is absolutely no excuse for the hiring of personnel who are rude and dismissive. I certainly did not expect heartfelt empathy, a pat on the back, and a tearful apology on behalf of the university, but I most certainly did not expect eye rolling and an abrasive “NEXT,” after waiting in line upwards of ten minutes to be seen by a representative.

I didn’t expect to have to play games: To have to know which representatives I could go to without being shooed away, or to have to know which higher-ups to email, or which offices could push through an appeal or registration change.

As an aside, I would like to speak personally to and sincerely thank the Office for Student Success for their help—I only personally visited their offices a couple of times, but left every time with a feeling of calmness, having had a clear path of what to do next laid out for me. I also know from my fellow students that those who know about these offices hold them in high esteem, and regard their continued existence as tantamount to the success of all students.

I don’t write this to simply rustle feathers and stir up negativity—I don’t name names because I don’t wish anyone to be singled out or “punished.” But as a student, it is my responsibility to make sure my experience here is what I expect. It should also be what I pay for. More importantly, as a student journalist, it is my job to address the concerns of my fellow students.

I was always going to write this. If I felt I was the only student to ever be treated poorly by the Financial Aid and OSA offices, I would have addressed this letter to a single person, and not publicized it. But I know better. I don’t presume to speak for every student on campus, but I don’t doubt that others who have been personally victimized by these offices would stand alongside me and say: We’ve had enough.