Financial aid or financial grief

One reason why people don’t attend college is money. It costs a substantial amount of money to pursue higher education, which is why financial aid is such a blessing to so many. The process of applying for financial aid is confusing. Having sat down with a representative from the Financial Aid Office, I can honestly say that I understand microbiology better than the financial aid process. Maybe the process would be a much more pleasant experience if students were greeted with a smile and not a rolling of the eyes.

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By Jessica Santibanez

COSTS OF EDUCATION

By Jessica Santibanez

One reason why people don’t attend college is money. It costs a substantial amount of money to pursue higher education, which is why financial aid is such a blessing to so many.

Financial aid gives students, who would otherwise not be able to afford it, the chance to go to college and prepare themselves for a career. No one doubts that the service financial aid provides is helpful to many students. However, improvements could be made to the system in order to help more students complete their education with less of a headache.

The process of applying for financial aid is confusing. Having sat down with a representative from the Financial Aid Office, I can honestly say that I understand microbiology better than the financial aid process.

Applying online is much easier than filling out the various forms. The program walks you through the process rather than having to figure it out for yourself.

This is how it works. A student fills out the required forms, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and an admissions application, to determine eligibility. Once turned in, processed and corrected, then the student may need to turn in copies of federal income tax returns and W2s.

Next, the file is reviewed and the student is notified of eligibility or turned away. This is where it gets really confusing. The federal government, as well as the college, randomly chooses a set number of applicants for “verification.” This means that for any reason or no reason at all, students are asked to give additional information before they are eligible for aid.

Once this agonizing step is passed, it is important to mail in the application in a timely manner. Certain deadlines are set for distributing funds. In order for students to receive their money when it is most useful, their application must be turned in and processed before the specified date.

However, processing applications takes time and if you are unfortunate enough to not make the deadline you will not receive your money when it is most convenient and will have to wait until the next disbursement.

The good thing is that you will eventually receive your money; the college doesn’t save it in an account somewhere and collect interest on it. The college itself doesn’t actually have any money reserved for financial aid. Once verified, the federal government gives money to the college for students based on their need, units taken, financial history and various other factors.

Having said this, it’s obvious that some changes are needed.

One thing that bothers me is why are there deadlines for submission of additional paperwork?

Students should be able to turn in their paperwork, have it processed and have checks available for them at the cashiers’ office. This method for distributing financial aid is used by many local colleges.

Second, why disperse student’s financial aid funds three times? Why not just give a single disbursement instead of three seperate ones? Is RCC operating under the assumption that students are not capable of budgeting their own money and therefore we need someone else to do it for us? Is the college going to balance my checkbook next?

Third, why not put the disbursement deadlines in the awards letters that are sent out to the students? The information about disbursements is available, but why make students hunt for it at all?

Next, why is the last disbursement for financial aid so late in the year? Does it really do a student any good if they receive their money Nov. 19, especially if the money is supposed to be for college? How many books are students going to buy the last month of class?

Also, is there anything that students can do to make the process shorter and avoid the long lines? Seriously, most students have other things to do than stand in line for two hours. If more students are being serviced then there are staff to service them, perhaps more people should be added to the staff.

And finally, in my dealings with the Financial Aid Office for the purpose of research, I noticed that a few of the staff members weren’t the friendliest of people. I must say that it’s rather awkward asking for help when it seems like no one wants to help you. After all, isn’t the purpose of financial aid to help students?

Unfortunately, after realizing how confusing it is for students to receive financial aid, I’d rather try to make ends meet on my own than maneuver blindly through a hostile and uncooperative system. Maybe the process would be a much more pleasant experience if students were greeted with a smile and not a rolling of the eyes.

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