Q&A with Jessica Sabourin, Director of Student Aid and Financial Literacy | News

The Office of Student Aid and Financial Literacy (OSAFL) is here to guide and help students and their families understand what funding may be available to fund a WPI education. OSAFL offers, administers, and disburses federal, state, and institutional financial aid to students, and oversees and administers the Federal Work Study Program, as well as the community service component of the program.

Throughout the school year, the office offers financial literacy programs, such as budgeting, credit learning, student loan repayment, and more. The office strives for excellence in customer service and seeks to counsel students and families from their application process through to graduation. They guide students and families through the aid process and help plan a four-year commitment to WPI.

This year, OSAFL took a hard look at ways the office could help support students as the community dealt with the stresses of the pandemic and mental health issues. We spoke with Jessica Sabourin, Director of OSAFL, to take stock.

Q: You recently made changes that have had a positive impact on students. Tell us about them.

A: OSAFL worked with campus partners to revise the Institutional Financial Aid Policy. These revisions to WPI’s Institutional Financial Aid Policy align with the university’s Federal Policy of Satisfactory Academic Progress and its academic reputation. Politics.

In short, a student must pass a minimum of 24 academic credits each academic year (Terms A through D) to maintain the same level of WPI Institutional Financial Aid for the following academic year.

Earlier this year, our office changed the policy to require students to earn 30 credits in an academic year, instead of 33, to retain institutional financial aid based on merit and need. However, after listening to student feedback, we felt it was in the best interests of our students to revise this policy.

Q: Who is affected by these policies?

A: This policy specifically affects our undergraduate students. There is a caveat for those in RCL (reduced course load), COOP, furlough, academic probation, academic suspension, and part-time status. For more information on status and policy, click here.

Q: Why and how did OSAFL make these changes? Were others involved?

A: OSAFL made the changes after listening to students regarding the impact of both the COVID-19 pandemic and our ongoing commitment to student mental health and well-being. Senior management asked us to listen and think about what departments could do to help alleviate mental health stressors – and we know finances are a big part of anyone’s stress. Once we looked at the current policy alongside the Academic Status Policy and the Federal Aid Policy, it made sense to determine what it would take to make a change. Contributors across campus included the finance and operations department, office of the general counsel, office of the registrar, deans, faculty, students, and senior management. Once we did the analysis, it was a no-brainer to make the switch.

Q: How much financial assistance does WPI provide each year? Where does it come from?

A: WPI provides $98 million in institutional scholarships/grants and $3.4 million in federal/state scholarships/grants (common dataset figure 19-20). This has grown each year as we have dedicated additional institutional funding to help with affordability and strategic institutional initiatives.

Funding comes from the university budget, philanthropic donors, and state/federal agencies.

Q: What should incoming students and their parents know about financial aid when applying or enrolling?

A: They should provide for a four-year commitment. There are a variety of ways to pay for an education—there is no one way you “need” to pay each year. One year you can use a 529 plan, the next a private student loan, the next a payment plan, or any combination of those. If you have questions, contact the Office of Student Aid and Financial Literacy. That’s what we’re here for. Each institution has its own deadlines for applying for admission and financial aid – familiarize yourself with these deadlines.

Q: What financial tools should students have when they graduate?

A: Graduates need to know what loans they have after graduation: institutional, state, and federal. They need to know who their loan managers are and what their repayment options are. They should familiarize themselves with studentaid.gov for federal loans. Graduates should also be aware that different loans and managers have different grace periods – if they are unable to pay, they should contact the lender for options. They can contact our office for assistance.

Also, they should know that if they are applying for graduate school and considering taking out loans, they are now applying as an independent graduate student and their loan options have changed. There is a difference between an undergraduate student and a graduate student when it comes to student loans.

Graduates should also learn the basics of budgeting and how to balance a checkbook, which our financial literacy program can help with while at WPI.

Q: Can OSAFL help students who face unexpected financial problems?

A: Students may contact finaid@wpi.edu to discuss particular extenuating circumstances.

The particular circumstances are all that differentiates the finances of the family from those of other families. Reasons for a “request for professional judgment” may include (but are not limited to)…

  • Recent unemployment
  • Recent death of an employee
  • Recent change in marital status
  • Recent unusually high medical bills not reimbursed by insurance
  • Other significant, measurable and unintended changes in financial condition

A request for professional judgment does not guarantee approval. OSAFL staff will be happy to walk you through the process for those who want details; email finaid@wpi.edu.

There are also options through the Office of the Dean of Students and OSAFL; Learn more here. One specific fund that I am extremely proud of is the Emergency Relief Fund (EAF), which was created to assist members of our WPI community who encounter an unforeseen financial emergency or catastrophic event due to the pandemic. WPI has repeatedly demonstrated that it is a community that cares. We are here to help.

Sarah J. Greer