EASE Working Group

Like many other institutions of higher education in the United States, Tufts University is cognizant of the growth of gaps in college attainment based on prospective students’ family income and access to other resources. The Equity, Access and Student Equality (EASE) Working Group has sought to comprehensively understand barriers facing low-income students and identify ways to offer timely, transparent, and centralized support to individual students, carried out through the Office for Student Success and Advising (OSSA) and other partners across the University. While Tufts meets "full financial need" for college attendance according to federal financial aid guidelines, we recognize that some Tufts students face additional financial barriers that impact their ability to truly thrive during their time at Tufts. We remain committed to addressing issues of equity, access, and equality wherever they occur on our campus.

Equity, Access and Student Equality (EASE) Working Group

The Equity, Access and Student Equality (EASE) Working Group was launched in June 2016 and continues to meet through Spring 2018 as part of the University's commitment to our highest-need students. Comprised of students, faculty, and staff, the Working Group was tasked with three primary objectives: 

Objective 1) Map Equity and Access Barriers

The EASE Working Group performed a preliminary examination of the lived experiences of Tufts students with high financial need by undertaking a survey of students with annual family contributions under $7,000. Among their findings, the Working Group learned that approximately 68% of surveyed students reported needing additional funds to fully meet their financial needs. Almost all students reported that their financial needs negatively impacted their academic outcomes, and approximately 42% of students with annual family contributions under $7,000 reported feeling concerned about their ability to finance their education at Tufts. Surveyed students also frequently cited the hidden costs of college (books, food, toiletries, laundry, and off-campus housing) and expressed concerns about financial emergencies that might impact their ability to remain enrolled.

A full account of the EASE Working Group's findings is included in their Summary of Key Findings, Accomplishments and Proposed Next Steps, a copy of which is available in the Dean of Student Affairs Office

Objective 2) Determine Resources/Supports

The EASE Working Group asked students with annual family contributions under $7,000 to identify resources they would like to see implemented at Tufts. Among options ranked as top priorities, students chose access to emergency grants, easily identifiable office staff, and housing specifically for students with greater financial need. Book loans/vouchers and emergency housing grants were also popular second choices. 

A full account of the EASE Working Group's findings is included in their Summary of Key Findings, Accomplishments and Proposed Next Stepsa copy of which is available in the Dean of Student Affairs Office. 

Objective 3) Create a One-Stop Resource and Support Portal

In September 2016, Tufts Technology Services (TTS) launched an updated Tufts Mobile smartphone app, adding a student persona to support all undergraduate students. The EASE Working Group determined that an EASE module within the Tufts Mobile app could act as a one-stop resource portal for high-need students. An EASE icon is currently in the beta stage and will be updated and released following a more complete inventory of existing resources and support. The icon will offer both transactional and informational links for students.

A full account of the EASE Working Group's development of a one-stop resource portal is included in their Summary of Key Findings, Accomplishments and Proposed Next Stepsa copy of which is available in the Dean of Student Affairs Office

Members of the EASE Working Group
Membership 2016 -17
  • Linda Daniels, (Chair), Sr. Director of Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion, Division of Student Affairs/CMHS Staff Psychologist
  • Lauren Black, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • Marybeth Caputo, Assistant Director, Technology Services
  • Donna Esposito, Director of Career Development (Spring 2017)
  • Kristen Finch, Associate Director of the Center for STEM Diversity
  • Rob Mack, Associate Dean, Student Success and Advising
  • Shirley Mark, Director of Community Partnerships, Tisch College
  • Elana McDermott, Doctoral Student, Child Study and Human Development (Class of 2017)
  • Kianna Medina Undergraduate Student (Class of 2018)
  • Christin Mujica, Undergraduate Student (Class of 2017)
  • Sylvia Ofoma, Undergraduate Student (Class of 2017); TCU Senator
  • Amy Piantedosi, Associate Director, Student Financial Services
  • Ellen Pinderhughes, Professor, Child Study and Human Development/Interim Chief Diversity Officer
  • Christopher Rossi, Associate Dean, Division of Student Affairs
  • Branwen Smith-King, Assistant Director, Athletics
  • Rubèn Stern, Director, Latino Center
  • Claire Weigand, Assistant Director, Time Management and Study Strategies Consulting Program
  • Joel Williams, Head Coach, Track and Field/Cross Country (Spring 2017)

 

Membership 2017-18
  • Linda Daniels, (Chair), Sr. Director of Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion, Division of Student Affairs/CMHS Staff Psychologist
  • Jessica Angeles (Class of 2021)
  • Lauren Black, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • Marybeth Caputo, Assistant Director, Technology Services
  • Donna Esposito, Director of Career Development (Spring 2017)
  • Rob Mack, Associate Dean, Student Success and Advising
  • Shirley Mark, Director of Community Partnerships, Tisch College
  • Amy Piantedosi, Associate Director, Student Financial Services
  • Christopher Rossi, Associate Dean, Division of Student Affairs
  • Carolyn Schwartz, Nurse Practitioner, Health Service
  • Claire Weigand, Assistant Director, Time Management and Study Strategies Consulting Program
  • Joel Williams, Head Coach, Track and Field/Cross Country (Spring 2017)

 

Additional Initiatives

Led by the Office for Student Success and Advising, the Division of Student Affairs has worked with Financial Aid and the EASE Working Group since Fall 2016 to alleviate strain on low-income students at Tufts. These targeted coordination efforts include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Emergency Funding: High-need students who experience a financial emergency can apply for additional funding through the Dean of Student Affairs Office. (Financial issues related to unpaid student accounts continue to be managed by the Financial Aid office.)
  • Hardship Fund: OSSA manages a Hardship Fund for students with an annual family contribution of under $7,000 that provides funding for academic and co-curricular experiences that have prohibitive costs, but are critical for the four-year experience.
  • Health and Wellness: OSSA and Health Service have developed a program to reimburse students with an annual family contribution of under $7,000 for up to $300 of health and wellness co-pays every 12 months.
  • Social Life: The EASE Working Group has collaborated with the  Department of Drama and Dance to offer free entry to on-campus performances. Full funding for Senior Week has also been obtained for high-need graduating seniors.
  • Swipe It Forward: A combined initiative from Dining Services, TCU Senate, and OSSA, the Swipe It Forward program provides a platform for students to donate their meal swipes to other students in order to alleviate ongoing food insecurity on campus.
  • Financial Aid Orientation and On-Line Scheduling: As part of Orientation, incoming financial aid students are offered an in-person primer on financial aid and the resources available to them. Incoming high-need students receive an outreach call from their individual Financial Aid Counselors prior to Orientation to establish a relationship. We have also established web-based scheduling with Financial Aid Counselors to improve access to the Financial Aid Office for all Tufts students.  
  • Access to Textbooks: OSSA has developed Book it Forward, a free lending library for students to check out books for an entire semester. The TCU Senate runs a textbook exchange program that provides students a platform to buy and sell textbooks at a discounted price.
  • Career Development: OSSA and the Career Center have increased targeted communication, programming, and resources for low-income students related to career development and networking. The Career Center has also increased its emphasis on high financial need in the distribution of Career Center Internship Grants.

A full account of additional EASE-driven initiatives and pilot programs is included in the EASE Working Groups' Summary of Key Findings, Accomplishments and Proposed Next Steps, a copy of which is available in the Dean of Student Affairs Office.

Next Steps

While Tufts fulfills the criteria of “full financial need” for college attendance established by the federal government, the fact remains that for some students, genuine needs go beyond the definitions of the federal government and other reporting organizations. We are committed to ensuring that the financial costs of every single student are met so that all Tufts students can fully experience all aspects of undergraduate life. In addition to the initiatives that have already been developed or piloted, the University is seeking to make additional changes to processes and policies in order to help address other important issues raised by the EASE Working Group. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Increased Textbook and Personal Expense Allowances: Tufts has traditionally used surveys to calculate the annual cost of books and personal expenses for students. We propose increasing the textbook allowance from $800 to $1000, and increasing the personal expenses from $1428 to $1528. We have derived these targets by matching the mean book and personal expenses of peer institutions. We will increase Tufts Grants to cover this additional $300 increase in need per student.
  • Increase in the Grant Portion of Financial Aid Packages: Last year, the federal government mandated a  change in the federal formula requiring that aid awards must be based on a year-old tax return. The College Board changed its formula to also use year-old data in order to remain aligned with federal methodology. As a result of these changes, the average financial need at Tufts has increased by about $1000 per family during the 2017-18 academic year. Because we meet "full financial need," this resulted in an increase in the grant portion of average financial aid packages by about $1,000. While not driven by EASE, this change has had the practical effect of addressing some of the concerns raised by the Working Group.
  • Off-Campus Housing: One of the biggest challenges to high-need students occurs in their sophomore year as students prepare to live off-campus. To secure a lease requires first-month, last-month, and security deposit payments, sometimes 6 - 10 months in advance of signing a lease. Beginning in the 2018-19 academic year, Tufts will arrange a cash advance on financial aid, available to high-need students, which will allow them access to the money when it is actually required.
  • Summer Earnings Expectation: For many years, we have expected financial aid students with work authorization to save $1500 - $2200 as their summer earnings expectation. For our highest-need students, who often use summer earning to help with family expenses, this expectation can be a burden. The University plans to reduce the summer earnings expectation for these students in all four classes to $1000 and increase their grant accordingly. In conjunction with this change, we will reduce the one-time transition grant offered to our highest-need students from $1000 to $500.