Saturday, February 14, 2015

Days of Worry

I felt like I messed up M’s life.  Had I made a mistake that was going to prevent her from attending any college next school year? 
My last post mentions that M had applied to Grinnell early decision, which is binding.  If she doesn’t attend there, she isn’t supposed to attend any college until fall of 2016.  But all was sunshine and roses when I wrote that, because I had yet to see the details of the financial aid offer.  In Monday’s mail I saw the details of the offer. 
Do you remember this chart?…
 It was included in my post at the end of November, where I said of Grinnell (Choice #1),
one of my sources calculated that with our situation, school #1 should be the second cheapest school on the list - with an annual cost of less than $19,000.  The only school cheaper is the only public school and the one ranked last on her list.  Also when we toured school #1, they said that they don't negotiate on aid packages, their offers cover 100% of need, and they cap loans at $3,500 per year.”
In early February I was looking at this…
Where did I go wrong?  Did I make another mistake on the CSS that I didn’t catch?  Why did I ever agree to let her apply Early Decision?
Just looking at “direct costs” (Tuition, Room, Board & Fees) minus the “aid package” (Grant, Loans & Work-Study), we were being asked to pay over $30,000 – when we were expecting to pay less than $19,000.  And why was M getting $4,500 in loans when they were supposed to be capped at $3,500?
There was just no way that we were able to pay for Grinnell.
I felt ill.  I sent off a quick e-mail to their Financial Aid Office.  Maybe this could be fixed. 
I followed up Monday night’s email with a Tuesday morning phone call.  I arranged for a 9:30am phone call with a financial aid counselor.  The scheduling secretary called me back at 9:20am to cancel.  My counselor was running behind.  She offered me slots on either Wednesday or Thursday.  I took the Wednesday slot because “I’m not going to be able to sleep until this can be resolved.”  She found me a slot later on Tuesday morning. 
The counselor sounded as if she had received a thousand of these calls before.  I tried to convince her that there must be some mistake.  At the very most we might be able to afford $25,000, but that was our limit.  I told her about the loan cap (“An old policy,” she said.), and our expectations from guestimates I entered at  As I said that, I realized Grinnell could not be held responsible for something reported.  The counselor said as much.  She said, according to what she has seen, our package was in-line with what she would expect it to be.  All hope was evaporating.  And then she went to Grinnell’s own on-line calculator and entered the same data that she had used to generate our official aid packet.  It concluded that we should expect to pay $24,000.
This bothered her. 
She then said things that gave me hope:
  • ·        She would take our case to the case review meeting at the end of the week. 
  • ·         If we couldn’t afford Grinnell, M could be released from early decision.
I immediately e-mailed or called the other schools that had accepted M and ask them if it was possible to restore her status, because our financial aid at Grinnell was not working out and we might get released.  They all said that this was no problem.  One said that they see this sort of thing happen once or twice each year.
The next day there was this…

Friday evening we were e-mailed; in their review meeting Grinnell decided to increase M’s grant by $4,085.  So we needed to pay about $28,700 before M could earn back $2,200 through her work study job.  This was still a far cry from our upper limit of $25,000, and another problem was that this felt like a one-year allowance so next year we’d be asked to pay over $30,000 again. 
My wife and I showed M the figures, shared our concern for next year’s aid, and showed her that if she used almost all of her college fund for year one, we could afford one year at Grinnell.  M decided that she wanted to be released from Grinnell.  It was the only option that made any sense.  But yet I felt that she should be able to think it over some more.  

At dinner three days later I asked M to confirm her decision to seek her release from Grinnell.  She hadn’t changed her mind.  The next day I sent the following e-mail asking for that release…
Dear Grinnell,

We were misled by your representatives into believing that we could afford your school. 
·      When we toured your school last summer we were told that loans were capped at $3,500 per year.  After we applied we discovered that that policy has ended. 
·      We believe that at our upper limit we can make $25,000 per year work financially.  Last week Tuesday, a financial aid councilor at your school, put the same numbers from our aid application into your own on-line calculator and discovered that it estimated that we would need to pay $24 K.  This was the same financial aid councilor that put together our official offer that said we needed to pay $32 K.  (Actually $34 K, with the opportunity to earn $2 K back through work study.)
·      To your credit, the on-line calculator was then taken off-line and "fixed" the next day, but the damage was done.
·      Because of the calculator issue.  You re-assessed our case and increased the grant offer to bring our share to $28 K for 2015-16.  This figure is still more than we can afford, and we believe that next year we would expect to be asked to pay $32 K once again. 
We would never have applied Early Decision if we had received accurate information regarding what we would be required to pay.  Your school provided us with the inaccurate information that led us to believe that we could afford your school.

To put it more bluntly; you lied to us.  And since this lie was tied in to my daughter's hopes and dreams, it really hurts.   Going from the euphoria of being accepted to the despair of realizing that it is financially unattainable, made us feel like we were sucker punched in the gut.  

Please release us from our agreement to attend your school.  Please let Beloit College, Illinois Wesleyan University, Knox College, Lawrence University, Truman State University and Washington University in St. Louis know that we have been officially released from this agreement as well. 
I received an e-mail from someone in the financial aid office, telling me to expect a call that evening from the head of Financial Aid.  But the call that I received was from the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.
He wanted to hear this story.  He apologized.  He said his department needed to learn from this.  We talked about M’s college search, and his daughter’s search.  They had visited 16 schools; many of them were the same.  He asked why M chose Grinnell.  I handed her the phone and she told him in some other words that it felt like home.  That the students that she met felt like members of her tribe.  He then told us, (I had him on speaker), that this was exactly the reason why his daughter chose Grinnell four years ago. 
He also told us that four years ago he was a dad living in Kentucky and having a similar conversation with the previous head of admissions at Grinnell, where he was explaining why their aid package wasn’t enough for him to be able to afford Grinnell.  Of course, Grinnell made it happen for his daughter and now he was in the position to see if he could make it happen for M.    
He lowered the loan amount to $3,500 for each year she attended and capped the total family contribution to $25,000 for each year that she was our only child in college.  When our second child goes off to college in two years, the total family contribution will be capped at $15,000.  It is all in writing. 
A happy ending.  I never thought that having figure out exactly how we can pay the $25,000 could make me feel this happy.  
Here are all of their offers, side-by-side…

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