Students, administrators disconnect on financial aid

In the weeks following the start of the fall semester, students and administrators have been faced with a costly disconnect.

Students have complained to the administration about issues involving the Office of Financial Aid/Scholarships and the verification of their aid by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.

In an online article last week on thenews.org, “Students, administrators disagree on financial aid at semester’s start,” students’ testimonials showed a series of problems they claimed to face. One issue was a fear of their paperwork not being completed on time.

Tom Denton, vice president of Finance and Administrative Services, said the numbers disprove that fear. He said the office has tracked the number of students who have completed everything on time this year, and compared that data with the number of students last year. The results have indicated there have been more students to complete this year, than the last.

Denton said 89 students were purged on the second round, half the number of purges at the same time last year.

Students have also voiced concern over being purged because of delayed verification, but Fred Dietz, executive director of Enrollment Management, already addressed the issue. In a previous interview with Dietz, he said if a student applied for aid late, for whatever reason, it didn’t matter. He said verification might take a while, so the office wasn’t going to purge those in verification. He said that didn’t seem fair.

The office did purge those who did not fufill their own obligations, such as turning in additional documents or accepting awards and signatures.

Lori Mitchum, director of the Office of Financial Aid/Scholarships, said Wednesday, there were 877 students that have completed their FAFSA, been selected for verification, but have yet to provide the information required by the office.

“Verification can only be completed once all documents have been received from the student,” she said.

Students selected by the department of education this year were required to submit additional documents based on the answers to some of the questions on the FAFSA. Also, if students did not use the IRS data retrieval, they were selected for verification.

On Wednesday, according to Mitchum, there were 47 students waiting for the second review of their documents, 155 students with unsigned documents and 130 students waiting for their first review.

University Bursar Anita Poynor said students were purged Monday for failure to resolve their financial obligations. She said in the fall of 2011, there were 163 students purged. The numbers indicate this year’s methods have been more successful in retaining students.

Since the online article was published, students have commented and some have said their aid had been awarded.

Poynor said 247 students were awarded their aid last Friday. Of the 247, 15 were held from the purge process to allow them time to accept their aid and complete any necessary requirements.

Now that the final purge has been completed, Poynor said any purges from this point forward will be done on an individual basis.

“There were 44 students that registered for classes for the first time from Aug. 21 – 27 whose schedules were not purged on Monday night,” she said.

She said these students have received an email, which contains the date by which their financial obligations must be resolved.

President Randy Dunn said the verification process was one of the issues this semester which was not under the administrators direct control. Because of KHEAA much was out of the University’s control and there were hiccups, he said, that were unavoidable.

“We have worked with the scholarship students to have them not hit by the purge,” he said. “We’re trying to hold these verifications harmless until that process is done by KHEAA.”

Dunn said the student complaints disturb him, and that the administration has tried to be as helpful as possible in keeping the students in the system.

Dunn suggested the problems students faced this semester arose because of a loss of dialogue between the students and the administration.

“When we know something’s going to be a problem, when we think there’s going to be a need to navigate a tough issue, I keep imploring all of our offices just to get that news out there early, get it repeated many times over in every venue that we can think of to prevent as many problems as possible,” he said.

The beginning of any semester is a very busy time of year, he said, and sometimes administrators forget to send out the news.

“I can always point to things where we could have handled the early communications on this better,” Dunn said. “At the same time, we don’t want to be taking time away from the processing to be investing just in that.”

Dunn said he did not begrudge students for being upset and worried about their aid and the verification process.

“I put myself through school for the most part, and I was always worried about this same stuff, too,” he said. “There are always worries that come with these types of delays. I understand it because I can remember it.”

Dunn said the verification process through KHEAA did slow things down this year, but that communication was still key.

Said Dunn: “We’ve got to just constantly get better on doing early warning communication when we see these types of problems coming.”

Story by Chris Wilcox, News Editor.