The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships is no longer examining the possibility of reducing financial aid award letters to students who waive Gaucho Health Insurance (GHI).
An announcement reflecting the change of course to pursue a plan came Wednesday night from On-Campus senator Matthew Santos, stated after weeks of negotiations between Associated Students and the financial aid office. The idea originally involved reducing the portion of financial aid award letters slated for covering the cost of health insurance to students who waive GHI. Discussions between the financial aid office and A.S. yielded no change in the status quo.
Director of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships Mike Miller said in an email to A.S. Internal Vice President Angela Lau that the idea was to allocate funds more efficiently from students who are not using the fully designated amount for health insurance and redistributing that amount for other purposes.
“The issue at hand is that approximately 50% of undergraduate students waive out of GHI and their financial aid awards are not adjusted even though the students are not incurring the GHI expense,” Miller said in an email. “Currently, financial aid recipients are able to use those funds to address other expenses. Given the rapid increase in GHI costs over the last few years, this has evolved into a significant issue. Based on our projections of past student history, we estimate a savings of about $6M in UCSB Grant if we make the revisions for GHI waivers.”
Fourth-year psychology major and GHI advisory committee member Alex Hill said while he understood the financial aid office’s position, he believes the idea was unpopular and stood to affect a large number of students.
“I understand the business perspective of the financial office and it is necessary to be prudent with any budget to make sure that they aren’t bleeding money. From their perspective, if you’re looking at their budget, they were more or less spending their budget inefficiently and they were trying to be more efficient,” Hill said. “However, their decisions do affect students directly in a way that was grossly unpopular with the student body.”
A.S. President and fourth-year psychology and sociology double major Ali Guthy said the financial aid office required additional concrete evidence before moving forward with a formal plan on the idea.
“From our perspective, they lacked specific data about what are student health insurance plans and needs at the time,” Guthy said. “They were making the decision, from my perspective, on a series of interactions with students coming into the financial office, which is good, firsthand experience is really great. But based off of that they needed to conduct a formal survey and focus groups and studies with students.”
Miller said in a statement that nothing would change regarding financial aid award allocations for health insurance and that the decision was reached after investigation into the Affordable Care Act.
“After spending time researching the issue and looking into the ever evolving Affordable Care Act and other health insurance options UCSB students have, I determined more time was needed before we could formulate a plan that I felt comfortable with,” Miller said. “Moving forward, there will be many more conversations at the system-wide and campus levels about this issue, but for 2015-16, I have made the decision to continue our current practices.”
According to Miller, a concrete plan to implement reduced award letters for students who waived GHI never existed, and Miller said it was only ever an idea.
“There was never an agreement to move forward with a plan to adjust financial aid awards for GHI waivers. There were simply conversations with a couple of key departments and AS members,” Miller said in an email. “From day one, we all said we wanted to be thoughtful about the issue before moving forward with a plan.”
Guthy also said she was pleased to hear the financial aid office would no longer consider any plans to reduce award letters and that her office would continue to discuss the financial aid situation with Miller’s office.
“We have to acknowledge they’re coming from a good place. They really listen to students on this issue and I personally could not be more happy with the outcome,” Guthy said. “Students just need to be aware that this conversation is happening. This conversation will continue to happen in the next couple months.”
Internal Vice President and fourth-year economics and accounting major Angela Lau said she believes student opposition to the idea contributed to the financial aid office’s decision to discontinue consideration on the proposed possible plan.
“With more talk about it amongst the student population it became very present or obvious that students were not ready nor were they gung-ho about this whole thing,” Lau said, “and that’s why they’re slowing down the process now.”
According to Jodie Nakajima, a fourth-year economics and accounting major, despite the change of direction taken by the financial aid office, she will still be waiving GHI.
“I think it depends on how much they would reduce it by, but insurance is pretty expensive anyways … so I probably would still waive it regardless,” Nakajima said.