Administrators move to streamline graduate emergency aid process after changes to distribution cause confusion


Daily file photo by Brian Meng

The office of Northwestern Student Enrichment Services. Emergency funding requests that used to be handled by Student Enrichment Services are now being processed by Financial Aid in order to be in compliance with federal law.

Cameron Cook, Reporter

Northwestern is working to improve the emergency aid process for graduate students after changes made to aid distribution caused widespread confusion.

Emergency funding requests that used to be handled by Student Enrichment Services are now being processed by Financial Aid in order to be in compliance with federal law, Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, interim vice president for student affairs, told The Daily in an email.

Though the change was expected to help students — moving the disbursement to financial aid offices could help counselors access “a larger variety of options” for students, Payne-Kirchmeier told The Daily earlier this month — so far it’s made the accessing aid more complicated.

[Undergraduates are confused about the new process as well. Read more about it here.]

At the beginning of Fall Quarter, Student Affairs was receiving requests for graduate financial assistance, Payne-Kirchmeier said. Financial Aid communicated that the process wasn’t in compliance, because graduate students need to request emergency aid through their school-based financial aid offices.

Undergraduates can still access the emergency aid application through the SES website, but there isn’t any information available for graduate students to do the same. And because administrators never formally announced the change, graduate students looking for emergency funding have no obvious place to go.

Masters student Julia Shenkman, who’s had trouble accessing emergency aid, has been waiting for funding for almost a month. Shenkman tried to submit an application to Student Enrichment Services to cover the cost of a flight to see a family member in hospice after a $1,788 medical bill put her in “a bad place” financially.

Shenkman said she called Financial Aid and was told graduate cases were not covered by the Emergency Aid Fund, housed in the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid, and that graduate requests were being handled directly by Mona Dugo, the senior associate dean of students.

Dugo was out of the office, and Shenkman was directed to a phone number for SES that was out of service.

“It would cost me between $450 and $600,” she said. “El Paso is a small airport, so even the cheapest flights cost a lot, and budget airlines don’t fly there. I was hoping to use the SEEN fund to cover this, but now with this situation, and the new medical bill, I likely won’t get to go.”

And although Payne-Kirchmeier said Financial Aid “communicated to the school-based financial aid offices” that the change was going to be made, at least one office wasn’t aware of the change.

In an email obtained by The Daily, Laura Soria, associate director of graduate student funding and operations, told Shenkman her office was “not informed of the plans regarding the emergency fund.” She added she would contact Student Affairs for more information and determine whether the Office of Graduate Student Funding and Operations would be able to administer the program.

The funding available to graduate students still exists — it’s just hard to find. After Student Affairs started getting direct requests for aid, Payne-Kirchmeier said, administrators began meeting to find a way to “streamline” the process for graduate students, which include “federal loan options or other alternatives to assist with additional expenses.”

“Student Affairs has already begun meeting with The Graduate School administration and Financial Aid to create a more streamlined process that is compliant and easy for students to navigate,” Payne-Kirchmeier said.

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