On Monday, April 13, Minerva students organized a Day of Action to highlight widespread concerns about financial aid, especially the lack of transparent communication throughout the process. Students participated by emailing their professors about the issue and either skipping class, covering their cameras, or showing a dollar sign or similar protest message on screen.
“We are bringing attention to the urgent needs of students regarding financial aid,” student organizers wrote in an email to Minerva administrators. “Despite past appeals to administration individually and through ASM, the responses to financial aid issues have been insufficient and left students with unworkable circumstances. From conversations within the community, we know that there are widespread issues and that action is needed.”
Later on Monday, the Minerva Senior Team responded to the students’ request for a town hall, saying they will host a virtual meeting this Friday, April 17 at 7 am PDT to address financial aid concerns. They further promised to send a written response to the list of demands at least 24 hours before the town hall begins. Ben Nelson told the Quest that he encourages students to participate “with an open mind and assume best intentions.”
Student Demands and Participation
Student organizers listed six demands, five of which dealt with making the financial aid process more transparent. These included clearly communicating and identifying changes to the student handbook, providing information about the cost to attend and term bills in the release of financial aid packages, announcing and explaining changes to payments, and sharing guidelines for financial aid investigations with students.
Students also demanded Minerva hire at least one more staff member to support students through the financial aid office, writing in the email to administrators that “having one person for ~600 students is insufficient.” The full list of demands can be viewed here with a minerva.kgi.edu email.
241 students signed the email delivering the demands of the protest to the Minerva administration, and at least a dozen more signed on after it was sent. It is more difficult to track how many students participated in some form during class, with some individuals observing one person visibly protesting while in other classes almost all students blocked their cameras.
Nebraska Grayson (M’21), a student organizer for the Day of Action, told the Quest she was amazed that what started as a small group sharing ideas eventually involved over 40 percent of the current student body. “With so many people concerned, it’s not something that’s a side issue or only affects a small number of students,” Grayson said. “People are saying the current situation isn’t working, that’s why they signed on.”
Minerva Administration’s Response
Nelson told the Quest that he and Vicki Chandler, Minerva’s Chief Academic Officer & Dean of Faculty, “are both sure that a number of students feel that they are not being heard and it’s important that everyone feels [like they are] a full part of this community.” He further responded to the demands by saying that some would be “rather straightforward” to address while three “are clearly an issue of miscommunication as they are already policies that are in place,” though he did not specify the policies.
Since the email to administrators was sent, the financial aid office shared an update about a miscalculation of financial aid for the Class of 2021; informed students about how they can access term bill invoices from past years; and announced the creation of a Climb Credit Loan Document Library on the Hub [requires a minerva.kgi.edu email]. These communications were not explicitly in response to the Day of Action.
Some students had expressed fear that participating in the Day of Action might result in punishment. When asked about these concerns, Nelson told the Quest that students who protested in a non-disruptive way were “fully within their rights” and would not be disciplined.
Long-Standing Concerns about Financial Aid
Anna Mukhlaeva (M’21), one of the organizers of the Day of Action, told the Quest that the original idea to protest came in the midst of several heated discussions in a private Minerva student Facebook group. Specific points of frustration included unclear communication about the Class of 2021’s financial aid awards and an individual student’s complaints about an investigation into their financial need. For Mukhlaeva and other participants, these recent issues re-ignited long-held anger at the financial aid system.
Nelson told the Quest that trust and communication between administrators and students can be improved, especially by building a common understanding of the constraints Minerva is operating under. He also cautioned that “We (both staff and students) should be careful in our reactions, especially when they are issued as demands as opposed to points of inquiry, to ensure that our fact basis is sound.”
Though the Day of Action is now over, Grayson emphasized that the conversation about financial aid and transparency is not. She encouraged people to continue expressing concern for the issue by changing their Forum profile picture to include something about financial aid and transparency and adding to the list of town hall questions [requires a minerva.kgi.edu email].
The Quest is currently working on a series of reports about financial aid and other money-related issues at Minerva, including articles that will investigate some of the concerns raised by this Day of Action. You can support our work by filling out this survey about financial aid.