The FAFSA Trap

Monsoon Muwwakkil | Staff Writer

For many of the students at Riverside City College, (RCC) this is their first year of college.
Having little experience and being somewhat nervous about college, paying for student fees, books and classes can be challenging and confusing.
Financial aid can take the burden off of struggling students and their families, but setting up a financial aid account is only the beginning of a waiting game for students to receive their funds through a Sallie Mae debit card.

Much of the student body has not been informed that they will not be receiving their card until well past the beginning of school and the deadline to purchase books enforced by class policy and teachers.

Students are trapped by the system in which teachers drop students and hold them accountable for the shortcomings of its bureaucracy.

Case in point: school begins on Aug. 26 but the first disbursement date is not until Aug. 30.

At that point one is eligible to receive financial aid in form of a debit card or check. It then takes 7-10 business days to receive your financial aid card and only 3-5 business days to receive a check.

Upon observing interactions between the financial aid department and students, of the 33 people observed, none of them were informed of their alternative option to receive a financial aid check, nor was the check mentioned.

However, each person was advised on how to get their Sallie Mae debit card and given detailed instructions on how to receive it.

“I had to figure out everything all by myself,” said Thomas Wadell. When further asked if they ever mentioned his option to receive a check he said “ no, nothing.” In the time it takes to receive a Sallie Mae card, numerous students are being dropped from their classes when they are unable to get a class code because they are unable to get the book, before they have even had a chance to see their financial aid.

Vinsetta Scott, was dropped from American Sign Language by Jodi Mowlery for the delay of her financial disbursements.

David Morales, Daniel Hernandez, or any of thousands of students struggle to afford to pay $145 for a book in order not to be dropped from classes.

After being dropped from classes without a “withdrawal,” students can then be placed on academic probation and reduced to part time, which in turn demands that they pay back much of their financial aid for not meeting full and part time enrollment requirements for the semester.

This is a contradiction to the FAFSA mission. ”It is not our responsibility to provide you with books, and students should have a contingency plan just in case,” said the financial aid director, Elizabeth Hilton.

“I was unaware of this.” Said Dr. Bush, associate professor of student activities and vice president of student services. He also scoffed, “I know it’s much faster than it was in previous years.”