Due to miscommunication between the Student Aid Office and the Dining Service, approximately 125 students were initially undercharged for their fall semester meal plans. On September 2, the College billed these students the $405 that had not been included on the previous bill in order to correct the error. Students affected were on financial aid and had opted for a 14-or 10-meal per week plan.
A full meal plan, which includes 19 meals per week, costs $2765?$405 more than both the 14-meal and 10 meal plans. The 14-meal plan includes $100 worth of Polar Points, and the 10-meal plan includes $250 worth of Polar Points per semester.
According to Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood, students who receive financial aid for tuition expenses also receive deductions on their meal plan expenses.
"The financial aid package that students on financial aid get is dependent on which meal plan they are on," said Hood. "Some folks who were signed up for the less expensive one got aid for the more expensive one."
Students receiving financial aid who signed up for the 19-meal board plan were entitled to the $405 deduction from their tuition, but those who had signed up for a plan with fewer meals per week received the deduction by mistake. Due to confusion about which meal plan certain students on financial aid had selected, the Student Aid Office inadvertently awarded these students aid as if they were signed up for the 19-meal plan, when in fact many of them were not.
Jessica Lian '09, who has been on the 10-meal plan since sophomore year, said that it was students who had switched plans earlier than last semester who were affected. Students who changed their board plans in May of last year did not experience problems, Lian said.
"The error took place when Student Aid requested one list from Dining, and Dining supplied a different list," Hood said.
Michelle Argueta '09 is one of the students signed up for the 10-meal board plan and affected by the fee, which she discovered on her OneCard tuition statement while adding money to her card. She subsequently met with the Student Aid Office to discuss the situation.
"It would have been fair to let us know what was going on instead of randomly slapping on a charge, because that would have been less stressful and conflictual overall," she said.
Though Argueta was surprised to see the fee, Hood said that an e-mail was sent to affected students in September.
The e-mail sent to students read: "According to our records, you have elected a meal plan for the fall 2008 semester. As you may know from our dining service, you will now be billed by the college at the lower board rate. The lower board expense also reduces your financial aid budget for the semester and the amount of grant awarded to you. The amount you and your family pay to Bowdoin is not altered by your election of a reduced board option."
Argueta said that she felt that the e-mail did not adequately or clearly explain the charge, and was frustrated that there was no mention of the additional $405 fee at all.
"While the e-mail does say that financial aid will be adjusted, it does not specify by how much or even make mention of the need to make a monetary adjustment," said Argueta.
Lian, who was also charged the $405 fee, said that although she read and received the e-mail, she did not think it suggested that any changes would be made to her bill.
"Because the e-mail said that it didn't change my financial aid, I didn't think it was a concern for me," she said.
In addition, Lian said that her online bill reflects that she was charged for the 10-meal board plan during the summer, so she was surprised that the Student Aid Office treated her as if she were on a 19-meal plan.
"On our tuition it said we were billed on July 1 for a 10-meal a week plan, so my logical assumption is that when they were calculating my financial aid back in the summer, they knew I was on a 10-meal plan," she said.
According to Hood, 30 to 35 parents contacted the College with questions after the deduction was made.
"The College has apologized for the error and has told parents that they can take until the spring semester to settle their accounts," said Hood.
"A lot of people do monthly payments and incremental payments, so they're basically saying that you can divide that $405 dollars by 'x' number of months and get it back," added Hood. "It's not a giant hit, so you don't have to come up with $405 right away."