Cal Poly students lined up Tuesday outside the Financial Aid office, awaiting funds that haven’t yet arrived. Staff have seen more students this quarter still without aid at this late date; a result of an increase in students utilizing financial aid during this tough economic year.
Additionally, students who procrastinate and continue to turn in forms late have burdened staff and a new direct lending program that launched late summer. Cal Poly’s Financial Aid office is using the William D. Ford Federal Direct Student Loan (DL) program as of Fall 2009 quarter, a switch from the former Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program. As a result, students and parents are now borrowing their loans directly through the U.S. Department of Education rather than a bank or other financial institution.
Lois Kelly, director of Financial Aid, said Wednesday the switch had administrators and staff carefully monitoring the first disbursement of funds, anticipating a smooth transition, but prepared for any bumps.
“More students this year have applied for financial aid, most likely a result of economic difficulties, so it’s no surprise more students are expressing frustrations. Overall, the transition has helped provide additional students with more aid,” said Kelly.
Cameron Walters, a Junior mechanical engineer, has been without financial aid for four weeks. The response he received Tuesday from the Financial Aid office…’two more weeks.’
“They said a couple of weeks a couple of weeks ago. There isn’t much I can do but wait and try to get by,” Walters said.
Without the funds to pay for a parking permit, Walters commutes to school via bus instead of his car, but unlike many of his peers, he walks on crutches after a toe injury, causing him to move slowly and uncomfortably.
“I stopped driving my car because I have no money and can’t even buy the books I need,” Walters said.
But Cameron admits he didn’t submit all of his forms on time. Still, other students turned in forms early.
Sophomore bio-medical engineer, Joe Casillas, had his forms submitted last spring quarter. When he arrived on campus three weeks ago, he noticed his account was empty.
“The Financial Aid office said they had probably lost or misplaced my forms, that they weren’t in the system or even in a folder,” Casillas said. “I was told the easiest solution would be to fill out another form instead of looking for the original, so I did.”
Exactly a week later, Casillas called the office only to find out it would take four to six weeks longer than they had originally quoted.
Casillas’s parents would have a hard time affording the costs of books and tuition out of pocket, so rather than burdening his parents further, Joe decided not to tell them he was without funds. He also hasn’t informed teachers.
“Teachers assume I have my books. I’d feel a little weird if I told them I couldn’t buy them, embarrassed,” said Casillas. “They would say I read the syllabus and that I shouldn’t be unprepared. It’s not like if I don’t have my books, I’m excused from the test. It’s so frustrating to have to wait weeks when they say its such a simple process now.”
In March, a press release from Cal Poly’s Financial Aid office stated that the switch to DL from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program comes after a lengthy review of services provided by FFEL. The review found that recent changes in FFEL negatively impacted sources of loan funding, as well as a noticeable decline in overall customer service. Administrators are promoting the change saying the new DL program is simple, convenient, and flexible.
“Parents and students with family members attending schools that use the direct loan program asked us why we were not participating in DL – because the process was so simple,” said Kelly. “As a result, we evaluated both programs and decided to make the switch.”
The consequential issue: students continue to pay little attention to “to-do” lists and deadlines, cluttering the system at the eleventh hour. Although everyone agrees immediacy is ideal for processing paperwork, diligence and careful attention are required to ensure quality and accuracy; a price paid with time.
Until aid is disbursed “you feel like you have to work harder than everyone else,” said Casillas. Without the books, I might pass my first test this week, if I’m lucky. All I would tell people is to watch deadlines and get forms in early.”
Administrators are encouraging students, as they do each quarter, to carefully manage financial aid matters before the school quarter begins. The Financial Aid office is working to expedite requests and equip students with the funds they need to succeed.