By Julia Duperrault
More than 300 students received their financial aid awards later than usual this year due to major staffing changes in the Office of Financial Aid and complications with a new federally-mandated verification system. While students normally receive financial aid packages in July, this year the majority of awards were not mailed out until late August or September. Many students were still waiting for their financial aid packages when the fall semester began on September 4.
According to Angel Perez, Pitzer’s Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, the delays were caused primarily by the abrupt departure of both professional staff members in the Office of Financial Aid. Former Director of Financial Aid Margaret Carothers retired and former Senior Associate Director Yvonne Gutierrez-Sandoval accepted a position at the University of La Verne.Carothers left in the second week of June and Gutierrez-Sandoval left less than threeweeks later. Their departure left the Office of Financial Aid with only anadministrative assistant for most of the summer.
“I was happy for [Carothers and Gutierrez-Sandoval] even though it left us in a bit ofa crunch,” Perez said. “The first thing I thought of was, ‘There’s no way we’re goingto get students’ financial aid packages out on time. We just don’t have the man-power to do that.’
Perez conducted a national search before hiring Robin Thompson as the new Director of Financial Aid. Thompson began working on August 17. A temporary consultant was hired to assist with financial aid processing in the weeks before Thompson’s arrival, and Perez instructed several Office of Admissions staffmembers to help communicate with families about the delays. However, the financial aid office’s administrative assistant, Catherine Acosta, was largely left tomanage the process on her own.“We are here to serve students and families, and so it was really difficult to have oneperson physically in the office who was handling all of the phone calls, all of therequests, [and] all of the paperwork,” Perez said.
According to Thompson, about 40 percent of the student body, between 450 and 480 students, receive financial aid. Only the incoming first years were not affectedby the delays, because newly admitted students receive their predicted financial aidpackages along with their acceptance letters in the spring each year.
Perez said the Office of Financial Aid made an effort to inform the parents of returning students about expected delays early in the summer, and the Student Accounts Office included a notice when the first bill was sent.