Steering the Financial Aid Ship in Choppy Seas

By MainGate Staff
Fall 2020/Winter 2021

Administering student financial aid might seem like a routine job, but in this turbulent year, it is anything but. Not only is the need exponentially greater at AUB due to the global pandemic and Lebanon’s dire economy, but there is a pervasive atmosphere of anxiety and dread following the August 4 explosion. According to Director of Enrollment and Financial Aid Antoine Sabbagh, “Everything converged on us this year. More and more people are in need even in categories of society that normally would not have needed financial aid, such as doctors and engineers who were well off until the economic downturn.”

Working closely with university leadership to keep financial aid awards fair and flowing, Sabbagh will administer an additional $20 million in aid in the spring term to help compensate for Lebanon’s currency collapse last summer. With annual tuition revenue tracking to reach less than $25 million in the 2021 spring term from a high of $190 million annually before the crisis, AUB had no choice but to adjust the exchange rate from the official but no longer tenable rate of $1,515 LBP to the Banque du Liban electronic platform rate of 3,900 LBP. And while Lebanese banks continue to service existing student aid loans, they will not offer new loans, and US FAFSA loans which are transacted in US dollars are now firmly out of reach for Lebanese students.

Antoine Sabbagh

Knowing the hardship these changes have imposed on students and their families, Sabbagh and his team have been working around the clock to make sure that the vast majority of AUB’s enrolled students will be able to complete their education. “I’ve aged 10 years in 6 months,” says Sabbagh, adding, “But it’s a battle well worth fighting.” Having spent two decades in management and teaching positions at OSB, Sabbagh is keenly aware of the value of a diverse, multicultural student body and how financial aid supports that. “AUB’s commitment to student diversity has been a pillar of its mission since its inception. Financial aid is a critical means to that end.”

“The financial aid budget will increase by over 20 million USD in the coming spring term compared to the current fall term. This is a necessity and a priority as the financial needs of our students, particularly those from Lebanon, have grown dramatically in light of the multiple crises the country has been facing. Through this increase, we expect to assist over 60% of our most-deserving undergraduate students, so that as many students as possible can be helped to complete their degrees. This budget increase also includes notable support for medical and master’s students.”

Interim Provost Zaher Dawy, Message to Students, December 14, 2020

It’s a battle well worth fighting.