Financial Frustration: Students share negative experiences with Financial Aid

by Ellie Hughes and Kayla Jarrett | Staff Writers, News Writing 3155

Photo credits: Kayla Jarrett

For most students, financial aid is the most important department on campus, but over the years CSU’s Financial Aid Department has developed a reputation for ineffective communication and outright rudeness.

The CSU News Team reached out to current students and alumni to shed light on the problems of the Financial Aid department.

Melissa Slaton, a senior in the English department, was awarded financial aid to study abroad in Oxford, England. Before she left, Financial Aid officials told her that, although England has a different credit system, she would still be considered a full-time student and receive the same amount of aid she’d been receiving at CSU.

But when she got back to the states, Financial Aid dealt her an unexpected blow.

“I get a letter in the mail saying, ‘you owe us a lot of money, and if you don’t pay it, we’ll drop you,” said Slaton.

She was billed for hours she was originally told would be covered by her HOPE scholarship and other Financial Aid awards. The letter said it was her “last notice,” even though she’d had no previous communications from the department.

“That was my first notice,” Slaton said. “And that was them just threatening to drop me from the school.”

After contacting the Financial Aid office, over the phone and in person, she was told she would have to pay them back for the three credits they originally told her would be counted in her semester registration. With her only options being either dropped from her classes or paying the allotted amount, Slaton had to borrow money from her mother in order to remain in school.

The CSU News team attempted to reach out to the Financial Aid department in order to present these allegations and receive their side of the story. In an attempt to find a person of contact on the department’s website, only a general email was found. It took almost three weeks for the department to respond to a request to meet with the director, at which point they said they would try to schedule something, but they failed to carry through by press time.

Last year, CSU’s Financial Aid department awarded $79,141,956 in total financial assistance to students. This includes grants and scholarships, Federal Work-Study, subsidized and unsubsidised loans. The rewards also cover coordinating awards for the traditional fall and spring semesters, as well as off-term semesters like Maymester, summer term, and study abroad.

Cailee Davis, a senior History and English double major, had an experience similar to Slaton’s. Late in the spring semester of her junior year, after she had spent all her financial aid money and nearly completed her classes, she unexpectedly received an email from the Financial Aid department requesting a document for verification. Davis immediately took action to get the problem solved, but little did she know it would be a horrific experience.

“I spoke with about twelve different people in the department,” said Davis. “I emailed, I telephoned, I came in person, and it was still not resolved. It was an absolute nightmare.”

Like Davis, many students take the initiative to ensure that their financial aid is up to date. For some students, without financial aid, it is impossible to attend school. Contrarily, the department doesn’t seem to care about how their actions — or lack thereof — place stress upon many students.

For instance, one CSU student who requested anonymity so as not to burn any bridges before graduating, shared her story: “After getting into a car wreck, I had to medically withdraw from school. Nobody warned me that this would result in me losing my HOPE scholarship with no way of ever getting it back.”

Students suffer greatly from the Financial Aid department’s failure to properly inform them, as well as provide them with adequate support when facing financial issues. According to Amani Bradley, a senior in the English department, instead of receiving support, her problem was only exacerbated by her contact with a Financial Aid counselor.

“They are supposed to help you,” said Bradley, “but they only make matters worse by basically just telling you, ‘oh sorry there’s nothing we can do.’”

Bradley went to the Financial Aid office in order to get advice and help pursuing her FAFSA application. Bradley, who has a strained relationship with her parents, was unable to obtain the information needed to fill out the form. Instead of professional support Bradley said, “I had this one lady who told me, ‘maybe you should patch things up with your mom so that you can get her information, so that you can fill out the FAFSA correctly because there’s no other way that you will be able to be enrolled at CSU.’”

CSU alumna Leah Vahjen does not remember experiencing problems with Financial Aid during the first several years of college. However, after returning to CSU after transferring for three years, she ran into issues receiving in-state tuition.

“I ended up having to pay $12,000 that semester up front because they weren’t able to process any of my financial aid,” said Vahjen. “It wasn’t until six months later that I got a check for a refund for the amount I didn’t have to pay.”

Even after receiving the refund to fix the in-state/out of state tuition mix up, the department continued to insist that Vahjen needed to submit more paperwork in order to keep her classes. After being dropped from all of her classes, she was required to reach out to every department head for her registered classes for a signature, which would allow her back into her classes.

Beyond the inconvenience and humiliation of missing classes to track down signatures and borrowing thousands of dollars from her parents, Vahjen felt unwanted by the department and unmotivated to continue at CSU.

“I had to either re-explain my entire situation or almost demand to talk to the same person,” said Vahjen, adding, “sometimes I got a lot of attitude.”

“I thought about dropping out that day. You can’t treat your students like you don’t want them here.”

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