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Fickle financial aid troubles students

February 10, 2012

There are some things that students will never stop complaining about and money is one of them. It seems like every year someone is trying to get rid of the MAP grant or tuition is being raised and students are left to fight the growing price of education by building a tenuous wall of debt.

And students are right to see a problem, but to get to the root of the problem, one must first understand the way financial aid works in Illinois, or rather, how it does not work.

First, the State of Illinois works on a completely different budget cycle than colleges and universities. As The Director of Financial Aid Jayne Schreck explained, the schools have to begin sending out financial aid packages in March, while the State does not decide their budget until about midsummer. This means that students are signed up for 12 month payment plans, or have already taken out loans and enrolled in classes before the state has finalized appropriations for MAP Grants.

 In an attempt to help colleges, an agency called the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) is responsible for acting as the middle man and giving schools an estimate of the aid they can expect to receive from the state while waiting on the general assembly. They provide the schools with a formula based on aid given last year and how they think the budget will be influenced by the current economy, among other factors.

“It’s a huge guessing game,” said Schreck.

State aid is distributed on a first come, first serve basis.

“Each year that deadline date gets earlier and earlier,” said Schreck. “It depends on when you get your FAFSA in. The FAFSA used to say that applications were due sometime in May, but they would stop giving out money in March.”

Thanks to Schreck and other financial aid offices, the FAFSA form now states that money will be distributed until funds are depleted, but students are still unaware of the change, leaving offices like Schreck’s fighting an uphill battle to try and disseminate information to students as the policy constantly changes.

Schreck urges students to fill out the FAFSA early, as it can be filed any time after January with mere estimates of their finances from last year, and corrected later, the State just looks at the date it was submitted. The financial aid office has several computer stations set up in their new location in the basement of Poling Hall, where financial aid workers can help students fill out their FAFSA right then and there, to help them get the aid they need.

With grants like the MAP grant, sometimes that aid is overestimated. When aid is decided, the governing agencies try to take in to account the number of students they don’t think will return for a second semester. This means more guessing, more estimating and more blind hopes. Sometimes they don’t guess correctly and if this happens students are left in a bind, sometimes with hundreds of dollars of aid to make up for.

To make matters worse, there currently are not any measures in place to help students in the event of a fallout.

“The Monmouth College administration is actively looking at the problem,” said Schreck, “They understand that there are students who depend on this money, and are trying to find a solution should the MAP money fail to come through.”

Nothing concrete has been determined, which means that students who depend on the sometimes thousands of dollars in state aid may one day find themselves in a precarious position.

“I’m looking at going to med-school,” said junior  Dillon Harris, “So I’m trying to limit the loans I take out. If I lose the MAP grant money I receive, I’d be in a less than ideal financial situation.”

And that’s putting it lightly. Most students interviewed admitted that they depend heavily on government aid and may even have to reconsider transferring to vocational schools or junior colleges should that aid fail to come through. Even more said they would consider dropping out completely if the government stopped providing the aid they needed.

Harris shared another common complaint with other students. He found that he lost a significant portion of his financial aid after becoming a junior, a change he said financial aid did not make him aware of.

Students, especially those entering their junior year, the year when certain Illinois grants for academic achievement have run their course, and have often complained that the loss of aid comes with out warning. This usually results in thousands of dollars of missing aid and very little time to apply for the loans needed to make up for it.

In an email, Schreck explained, “All notifications of aid eligibility for the next academic year are announced in the Financial Assistance Awards. For returning students, these awards are placed on MyMC through the WebAdvisor section. Returning students are sent an email (typically in May) notifying them when their Financial Assistance Awards for the following year, are available for viewing on WebAdvisor … What we are coming to realize, is that students are logging in and accepting their awards without fully reviewing the awards, comparing the awards to the previous year(s), or discussing the awards with their parents. Therefore, the parents/families can feel a bit blind-sided by a loss of funding.”

Schreck is also quick to point out though that students who lose aid often receive other types of aid in a particular year from their FAFSA or other forms of government aid.

Sarah Zaubi
Features Editor

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