George Chin, CUNY’s Director of Student Financial Aid who served for nearly three decades and whose expertise in financial aid and advocacy for needy students had a national impact, died Feb. 5 of cancer. He was 67.
“George Chin’s dedication to making sure every student could afford an education was legendary. He fought and won not only for CUNY students but also for students across this nation. He will be sorely missed,” said Chancellor James B. Milliken
Chin fiercely advocated to expand financial aid throughout his 28 years at The City University of New York, from 1981 through his retirement in 2008 and then beyond, for he continued to consult with the University.
In 2003, when he was the incoming chairman of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Chin testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness. It was considering legislation that would change FAFSA requirements, which then included net family assets and home value in determining family contributions toward tuition.
That application process, “which relies on a financial snapshot, does not reliably measure a family’s ability to pay for college,” he argued. The law should revamp aid formulas; simplify the application to better “distinguish needy families from those that have the means to pay;” and consider switching from paper to online application, he testified. He called for “fairness, equity and effectiveness for the use of the student aid programs.”
“He won,” said James Murphy, CUNY’s Dean for Enrollment Management. As a result of that bill, Washington scrapped questions on assets and simplified the process for low-income students so that, for example, those receiving public assistance need not answer questions aimed at wealthier students. And, as Internet use spread, FAFSA did shift to digital applications.
“George had national impact,” Murphy said. “Before any financial aid policy – state or federal – was implemented, they always checked with George because of his expertise, and that’s not an exaggeration. He was the most influential financial aid administrator of his time.”
And even though he was CUNY’s financial aid director, just about every Saturday Chin would work at his father’s dry cleaning business in Queens. Survivors include his wife, Lorna, three children and three grandchildren.
Chin earned a B.S. in management engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a M.Ed. in guidance and psychological services from Springfield College. He worked in financial aid at St. Francis College in Brooklyn and at SUNY Stony Brook before becoming branch chief for institutional review in the U.S. Department of Education’s New York Regional Office. After leading an audit of CUNY in 1980, he applied to become the University’s director of financial aid.
During his career, he also led the New York State Financial Aid Administrators Association and the Eastern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. The national association awarded him its Robert P. Huff Golden Quill Award for his contribution to the “Annotated Bibliography of Literature on Student Financial Aid” in 1987.
Chin was known for his intelligence, wit and number crunching. Murphy recalled a meeting on potential enhancements to the New York State Tuition Assistance (TAP) Program. “Officials were throwing out numbers. George did the computing in his head and blurted out the answers faster than five or six of us who were using calculators.”
Chin may be best remembered for his commitment to ensuring access to higher education. In 1987, he spoke with The New York Times about Reagan administration plans to deny all federal student grants, loans and work-study jobs to institutions in the government’s Guaranteed Student Loan Program that did not bring loan-default rates below 20 percent by 1990, which would have cost CUNY $135 million (more than $285 million today, when the default rate is far less that it was then).
”When you look at a university like CUNY, it’s been a respected institution of higher education, but it’s been an institution with a commitment,” Chin told The Times. “When you look at the makeup of our student body, the [default] numbers aren’t that surprising. I think it is an indication of our mission more than anything else.”
And with that, he said the University would fight the proposed regulations. They did. And they won.