Students, administrators disagree on financial aid availability at semester’s start

Chris Wilcox || News Editor

This year Murray State has received two national recognitions for their affordability and for their financial aid/scholarship program; in past years students have said the office of Financial Aid has had exemplary service, but many students do not feel as though the award is merited for the current semester.

Forbes named Murray State a “Top 100 Best Buy College” as well as an “American Top College” this year. The U.S. News ranked Murray State as No. 1 nationally for its financial aid packages.

Fred Dietz, executive director of Enrollment Management, said there were a handful of students who have not been verified yet, but he said regardless they would not be purged.

“Even if a student applied for aid late, for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Verification may take a while, so were not going to purge those in verification, that doesn’t seem fare to them.”

Dietz said the paperwork involved in awarding financial aid and scholarships can take up to three weeks, the process can take months if verification is required he said.

The Department of Education has mandated that a random sampling of students must go through a verification process in order to receive any sort of aid. Dietz said approximately one in three students are chosen for the verification. The verification has been outsourced to the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA). This partnership with the state agency, Dietz said has been a learning experience on what can be done better to make the office quicker and more efficient.

He said verification is done to make sure students who are receiving aid can do so legally. He said verification is a process by which KHEAA can check W2’s, income tax transcripts, alimony forms and other financial documents in an effort to confirm whether a student qualifies for financial aid.

Several students can’t help but feel stressed that the help offered over the summer has been less than helpful and a large number of students have received their financial aid late or have yet to receive it.

Corrie Stroup, senior from Paducah, Ky., said the financial aid office has outsourced information for verification to KHEAA, a public corporation and governmental agency of the Commonwealth which strive to administer several financial aid programs, who have taken an extended amount of time to grant him his financial award, which has caused him financial hardships.

“I’m on another friend’s couch until I can get my financial aid because that’s what I live on,” he said. “I’m also going to get my classes purged again, because it’s taking so long to get my aid.”

Stroup said his mother only earns SSI because she is disabled and in years past financial aid has always come through. He said with financial aid coming in late he isn’t even able to enroll in the payment plan offered by the MyGate money system.

When asked about his overall experience with the Financial Aid office, he said it has not been a pleasant or speedy process at all. He said in years past the office has been more than helpful and he has never had these issues before.

“There’s just been a big disconnect with response time this summer,” he said. ”I understand that it’s a really busy time of the year, but when I was sending the office information, there was little to (mostly) no confirmation that information was received.”

Stroup said if he hadn’t called and inquired about the progress of his aid, he would more than likely still be waiting back to hear that they needed more information.

Stroup is not facing this dilemma alone. Another student facing problems because of the verification process is Nancy Starks, senior from Cadiz, Ky.

Starks said she was still waiting for verification to get her financial aid processed and to find out what aid she will receive for the school year.

“When I contacted the office of Financial Aid about my concerns they quickly pushed me off to KHEAA,” she said. “When I finally reached them, they just told me they had my paperwork and it was processing.”

She said she is currently enrolled in a payment plan, not because she is able to make the payments, but because it keeps her classes from being purged.

“I understand that Murray can’t really help that the company they chose is taking so long,” Starks said. “But having to pay late fees for it and beginning my last semester not knowing is very frustrating.”

When Starks was asked about the recognition Murray State has received she said the office of financial aid has been fairly helpful and quick in the past.

“I have never started a semester without knowing my aid before,” she said.

Dietz, executive director of Enrollment Management, said students have no reason to worry about their schedules being purged. He said the office realizes verification takes time and emphasized the point no student would be purged because they were waiting on verification.

Dietz said the office of Financial Aid works hard year round to help students in acquiring their financial aid. The national recognition received confirms that statement.

A report from Forbes released earlier in the summer placed Murray State in the “Best College Buy” category. The only Kentucky public school placed within the category.

Of public universities on the “America’s Best Colleges” listing, only the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky scored higher. Forbes ranked Murray State among the top 8 percent of colleges in the country.

Forbes’ rankings take into consideration teaching quality, career prospects, graduation rates and student debt. When factoring in the sticker price, due to financial and other forms of aid, Forbes put the institution in the “Best College Buy” category.

Staff Opinion: Financial aid, financial woes

President Randy Dunn said it was no coincidence the University was placed on the list.

“We remain particularly proud of MSU’s continued presence as a Forbes ‘Best Buy College’ because of our focus on delivering a quality education at an affordable price, particularly during tough economic times such as these,” he said.

U.S. News also ranks Murray State among the best for the University’s affordability and financial aid/scholarship program.

According U.S. News, Murray awarded non-need-based scholarships and grants to nearly 77 percent of its undergraduate students.

The report also placed Murray State University’s high rate of financial aid through scholarships/grants as particularly noteworthy given the national debate on both the high cost of attending college in the U.S. and the increasing national student debt load.

Dunn said he was delighted the University received the recognition, which he says indicates Murray State is a national benchmark institution for affordability.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the hard work of our faculty and staff and the generosity of our alumni and donors with whom we share this distinction,” he said.

U.S. News conducted its research using information on schools it recognizes in its yearly “America’s Best Colleges” rankings, Murray State has been ranked on the list for its quality for 21 consecutive years.