FLI students drive revisions to Fall 2020 financial aid

New COVID-era grant policy ensures every student sees ‘the full benefit of the $5,000’

Following discussions with members of the First-generation/Low-Income (FLI) community, MIT administrators revised policies for the $5,000 COVID-era grant in the Fall 2020 Financial Aid plan. The revised policy states that all students will receive the grant as a refund so that students who owe MIT less than $5,000 will receive the remainder of the grant after their balance is cleared.

The initial July 7 plan applied the grant as credit for students with an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of more than $5,000 while students with an EFC less than that amount would have their balance zeroed out.

FLI leaders Eleane Lema ‘21 and Tanner Bonner ‘22 wrote in an email to The Tech that the original distribution of the grant “directly excluded low-income students” because only students with an EFC greater than $5,000 were eligible to receive the full grant.

The financial aid plan also reduces off-campus students’ fall semester room-and-board allowance from approximately $8,000 to approximately $4,000. Student Financial Services (SFS) has not changed this policy.

The SFS website writes that “many students will be living at home and will not have housing expenses,” and will have “reduced food costs” compared to a normal semester. “However, in recognition that there may be other costs, MIT has decided to offer students half the on-campus allowance.”

Reducing the allowance means that “students with an EFC near or equal to zero would receive significantly less financial aid in comparison to normal years,” Lema and Bonner wrote.

FLI Exec — student leaders involved in QuestBridge, First Generation Program (FGP), and Class Awareness Support and Equality (CASE) — created an online document July 7 for low-income students to discuss their concerns. FLI Exec also collected testimonials from FLI students about how they would be negatively impacted by the financial aid policies.

Lema and Bonner wrote that members of FLI Exec held a Zoom call with Black Students’ Union members later that night to “join efforts and to lay out plans on how to bring [their] concerns to MIT’s administration.”

Undergraduate Association Vice President and FLI Exec member Yu Jing Chen ‘22 organized a meeting between FLI Exec and MIT administrators, Lema and Bonner wrote. At the meeting, members of FLI Exec shared quotes from the 19 student testimonials with Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz, Dean of SFS Stu Schmill ’86, and Director of SFS Leslie Bridson. 

Barnhart, Waitz, Schmill, and Bridson wrote in an email to The Tech that they were “aware of the FLI students’ concerns” prior to the meeting and discussed new policies as well as administrators’ decision-making process with FLI Exec at the meeting.

Lema and Bonner wrote that a “huge milestone” occurred July 13 when Chen made an unofficial announcement to the FLI community that the COVID-era grant would be revised to benefit all enrolled students the same amount. The next day, SFS included information about the new policy on its website: “Based on feedback from students, we have clarified that every student will see the full benefit of the $5,000.”

FLI Exec hosted a virtual town hall with Schmill and Bridson open to all low-income students July 16. Lema and Bonner wrote that Schmill and Bridson were “very transparent and understanding” when addressing the students’ concerns and answering questions about how the financial aid policy was conceived.

“The FLI Exec is hoping to continue working with [Schmill] and [Bridson] to make sure low-income students are informed about relevant financial resources and support,” Lema and Bonner wrote. 

Lema and Bonner wrote that future plans FLI emphasized at the meeting with administrators included “more transparent and inclusive decision-making” and the creation of an FLI Office. They wrote that in future meetings about Institute decisions that impact undergraduate students, “there should be either FLI students or [an] FLI advocate involved in the decision process.” 

“We are actively working to strengthen transparency, communication, and our overall partnership with SFS so that low-income students can be better supported with their financial needs,” they wrote.

Additionally, an FLI Office would “strengthen institutional support for FLI students,” “increase visibility of [the] community,” and ensure that administrators are “constantly aware” of FLI students’ needs, Lema and Bonner wrote. 

FGP Advisor Taylor Pons wrote in an email to The Tech that efforts to identify and assess “MIT’s current efforts in supporting [first generation and low-income] students” are currently undertaken by a working group of staff and undergraduate students, many of whom are members of FGP, CASE, and the Accessing Resources at MIT Coalition

Pons wrote that the working group’s report of recommendations, which will be presented to Waitz, recommends “the creation of an FLI office.”

Lema, Bonner, Pedro La Rotta ’21, Juan Aleman ’22, Mohit Dighamber ’23, Shaida Nishat ’22, and Ashar Farooq ’23 currently lead five “FLI Summer Subcommittees” for first year engagement, summer support, communications, institute policy and relations, and alumni connections.  

The subcommittees work on initiatives including an FLI website, social events for FLI students, the “establishment of an alumni mentorship program for FLI students,” and giving recommendations to the Student Housing Assistance Review Process (SHARP) and the Academic Policy and Regulations Team.

Lema and Bonner wrote that initiatives including “Community Conversations” town hall events and “FLI Office Hours” will be continued in the fall to support students. 

FLI students may join FLI mailing lists or the FLI community Discord server by emailing,, or

Barnhart, Waitz, Schmill, and Bridson wrote that they worked with Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88, Vice President for Finance Glen Shor, and President L. Rafael Reif to increase support for students during COVID-19. (Financial aid policies are historically drafted by the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid.)

Students who cannot live at home or on campus in the fall can seek assistance from SHARP, and students who would like to appeal their financial aid or receive help for one-time expenses are encouraged to talk to their financial aid counselor, appeal their financial aid, or fill out the undergraduate hardship form, they wrote.

MIT has also increased support for students by freezing tuition, removing the $340 annual student life fee, “heavily subsidizing meal plans,” “offering significant assistance with room and board even though the majority of students will not be on campus this fall,” offering the $5,000 COVID-era grant, creating “guaranteed paid experiential learning opportunities,” and giving “technology support,” Barnhart, Waitz, Schmill, and Bridson wrote.

Barnhart, Waitz, Schmill, and Bridson wrote that MIT administrators’ work over the past five years is “reflective of our commitment to our first generation and low-income students” and “very much aligned with the input we have received from this group of students.”

Over the past five years, MIT has “increased the financial aid budget by 60%; lowered the amount we expect students to contribute to their education from $6,000 to $3,400 during the semester and from $2,575 to $2,000 in the summer; decreased the amount we expect families to pay; added a $2,000 grant for low-income first-year students; and solidified a process by which students can access one-time hardship funds,” they wrote, also citing the creation of FGP in the Office of the First Year.

“We share the same goals as the students— we want all students to be able to succeed at MIT,” they wrote. 

Barnhart, Waitz, Schmill, and Bridson wrote that they “are optimistic that the plan MIT has put in place for the 2020–21 academic year appropriately balances our responsibility to protect public health; to support students’ academic progress; to provide students in need with access to financial resources; and to successfully navigate the budget challenges stemming from our responses to Covid-19.”

Update 7/30/2020: The article was updated to indicate the correct class years for Pedro La Rotta and Juan Aleman.