Students bemoan financial woes; offices promise aid

By Brandon Bridges

As students waited in the hot, crowded corridor that lines the front of the Office of Student Financial Aid on John Street, many of them said they could not help but feel the pressure of their financial uncertainties weighing upon them.

Many have already faced monetary dilemmas in their apartments, dormitories and houses in terms of appliances, decorations, utilities and rent payments.

With the school year just beginning, the added stresses of books, tuition and housing bills can create an almost unbearable situation for students who search for solace in the halls of the financial aid office. Loans, scholarships and grants often provide the necessary bridge to cross the emotional turbulence that financial worries create.

However, some students are finding that the Office of Financial Aid is not the source of their financial salvation when they are met with busy phone lines, crowded hallways and mounting monetary concerns.

“I need to buy my books, and I was calling for three hours and not able to get through. Now I’ll be waiting in line for two hours … I just know this is going to be difficult to get straightened out,” said Amanda Hart, junior in LAS.

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Hart said she was frustrated with incorrect financial aid information in the new Banner system – a sentiment shared by many other students in line.

“My loan paperwork is incorrect, my scholarship information hasn’t gone through yet – everything is a mess,” said Matthew Cheatham, junior in engineering. “It’s like this office doesn’t realize that our academic lives are in their hands with this information.”

Orlo Austin, the director of the Office of Student Financial Aid, painted a different picture of the office and his staff.

He described a new loan program that has been designed to assist students in need of immediate financial assistance. The retitled “Short-Term Loan Program,” formerly known as the Emergency Loan Program, has been slightly restructured to provide for students who face any financial strain, not just unforeseeable or unplanned emergencies, Austin said.

Students may borrow from this loan program once a semester, although it is accessed most often in the fall because of costs associated with coming back to campus. Undergraduate students may borrow up to $400, while graduate students can borrow up to $800. This loan goes on the next billing cycle and becomes part of the borrower’s student account.

The short-term loan is meant to ease the financial problems many students encounter when returning to campus, Austin said.

A large number of students have found that when accessing their financial aid information on the new Banner system, their findings are not consistent with the aid that they are supposed to be receiving.

Austin said the Banner system has been a problematic factor in financial aid processing, but he remains optimistic about it.

“The Banner system is new, and the new software has slowed processing down. Other issues with student paperwork being turned in late or filled out incorrectly can also slow down the process,” Austin said.

Although the system has some technicalities that still need to be worked out, Austin said he believes that the office is much better off than in years past. The Banner system, when it begins to function accurately, will drastically cut down on delays in aid, Austin said.

Austin mentioned graduate student assistantships as another source of problems for the financial aid office.

Other students, particularly graduate students, are struggling with the office’s policies rather than with its information systems.

Graduate students often receive assistantships to pay for their education, but this year there have been several problems with contracts being signed late, which adds to the delay of their stipend, Austin said.

Many of the problems that exist within the Office of Financial Aid reach beyond the scope of the office’s function, he added.

Austin said the staff is working attentively and compassionately with the many frustrated and agitated students that line their halls. From graduate assistantships to Banner processing problems, Austin said the financial aid office is hard at work to alleviate students’ financial concerns.