Campus Struggles With Financial Aid

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Analysis: Financial Aid Struggle

Assistant University News Editor Emma Anderson speaks with Katie Nelson about the dilemmas that students receiving financial aid are facing and the dilemmas the financial aid office are facing.

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On Aug. 19, UC Berkeley junior James Nagy received notification from the campus Financial Aid Office confirming he had fulfilled all the necessary requirements to receive loan money and that he would be given his funds shortly. But as August and then September came and went, Nagy had yet to receive any sort of financial aid.

Nagy finally called the office the first week of October and was told there was a computer error which had to be manually corrected in order for students to receive their aid. Nagy was one of hundreds of students that had yet to see any reprieve with their financial aid issues. Nagy said he was assured he would receive his money within two weeks.

As of Tuesday, Nagy had not received his financial aid package and has yet to find a way to make up for the $3,500 he receives per semester in financial aid. With fees due in early November, Nagy said he is wondering how he will continue to afford his college education.

"What concerns me is that my problem might not even have been reviewed had I not called," he said in an e-mail. "When I applied for and accepted financial aid, I didn't know (the office) would have these problems or that the problems would take this long to resolve. I'd really like to see the money come before things are due in November, because I don't really have a plan for how to pay for those expenses."

According to Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Financial Aid Cheryl Resh, Nagy is one of several hundred students who are currently without aid, though Resh also said a definite number is unclear.

Ideally, students receive their financial aid offers one week prior to the beginning of each semester. This year, however, for hundreds of students, the process has been dragged out.

Resh said a major systems change, budget cuts, reduced staffing and furlough days - all of which have occurred at a time of unprecedented need for financial aid due to several reasons including the country's economic downturn - have added increased stress to the financial aid office. The office lost 10 positions through retirements and voluntary leave within the past few years, and reduced levels of funding from the state have forced the office to be closed on both Mondays and Fridays.

Resh said that this year alone, the campus has seen an increase of more than 5 percent in the number of students filing FAFSAs for 2010-11. While the campus has already allocated $189 million in fall aid to 19,970 students - 15,164 undergraduate and 4,707 graduate students - by this time last year, the office had been able to serve about 100 more students, Resh said. Preliminary numbers of students who received aid both semesters of last academic year totaled about 18,000 undergraduates and almost 10,000 graduate students.

The financial aid office has employed a new computer system called ProSAM to help tackle the increased demand for financial aid. According to Resh, the system - which helps the office track the allocation of funds to students - is in its first year of implementation and was the most cost-effective solution to the complex financial aid needs of the campus and the students.

However, Resh said in an e-mail that glitches within the ProSAM system have caused a lag in properly allocating funds to students.

"There have been delays in paying outside agency scholarships that came to our office because of issues with the new system," she said in the e-mail. "Once this problem was cleared up, the staff worked hard to clear out the backlog, and now, almost 2,000 checks for over $4 million have been processed to the students' CARS accounts. Some of these students could now have their aid held up because we have not reduced their aid package yet."

In addition to the backlog, roughly 200 students who were not meeting Satisfactory Academic Progress for financial aid eligibility - a critical federal, state and institutional aid requirement stipulating students maintain a 2.0 GPA, among other prerequisites - had accidentally received aid and are now being asked to either file for an appeal to continue to receive aid or give back the money that was paid in error.

According to Resh, an e-mail went out to the 200 students more than a month ago explaining the situation. All but 75 of the students who had mistakenly received payments have submitted an appeal or personally paid to be registered in the spring.

Senior Matthew Yagyagan said he waited eight weeks to receive financial aid, and he had to go to the office every week to try to determine why the office was taking so long to provide him with his funding. According to Yagyagan, he was never given concrete answers as to why his loans were not going through and, like Nagy, was told more than once that it would "take another two weeks" for him to be awarded his aid.

Yagyagan, who said he is graduating a semester early solely to save money, had to take out emergency loans last week to pay his rent and registration fees. He said while the loan covered 15 percent of his fees, he still could not purchase books this semester because his financial aid came through too late.

"One time (the office) was like, 'I don't even know what's wrong.' My forms and aid weren't showing up in the system, and they couldn't tell me why my loans weren't being paid out," he said. "My family is middle class and is kind of stuck between not being eligible for scholarships but still not making enough to pay for college. My loans are supposed pay for everything."


Katie Nelson is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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