In fear of being dropped from her classes, Samantha Villanueva, a junior studying computer science, swiftly grabbed for her wallet and pulled out her credit card. “I had to call my bank and let them know I didn’t have it stolen: I’ve never had to spend so much money all at once before,” Villanueva said. With the same fear instilled in her, Yamilex Garcia, a junior in psychology, said she spent more time waiting in line at the financial aid office than in class her first week. “All they told me in the email I received was that if I didn’t pay and have all my paperwork in by Friday that I would be dropped completely,” Garcia said.
With many other students sharing the same concerns, the only thing longer than the lines wrapping around the corridors of the SUB and College Hall is the list of issues the Financial Aid office encountered beginning this fall semester.
Those immediately affected by the slew of bad luck are first-year, first-time borrowing students. The U.S. Department of Education automatically delays disbursement of direct loans for 30 days after the first class day for universities whose default rate is higher than 15 percent. Dr. Terisa Riley, Senior Vice President of Student Affairs, would not confirm where the university’s default rate rests today.
The percentages for previous fiscal years, which are published on the Department of Education’s main website, show that TAMUK teetered on a 14.8 percent default rate. While the rates currently used have yet to be released publicly, it would appear as if a boiling point has been established and current students have begun realizing the implications of students defaulting on their loan payments.
“Financial literacy is critical for helping students to understand financial commitments and resources,” Riley said. Alumni who default on their loan payments run the risk of ruining their credit scores, limiting their future borrowing amount, and receiving obscenely high interest rates. “Many individuals default; just stop making payments and hope the collection calls and letters will [just] go away, but they won’t,” Riley said.
In the meantime, students who expected to use their funds to purchase books and supplies have been contacted by the financial aid office and encouraged to use the university’s book voucher system. Riley says those who were not expecting to receive a refund were encouraged to enter a payment plan in order to cover the remaining balances.
A technical issue did not present itself until the Marketing and Communications department sent notice to Dr. Riley verifying students begun reporting on social media they were having difficulty connecting to the financial aid office. In several instances, students reported being placed on hold for several hours before being provided assistance by a financial aid representative.
According to Riley, TAMUK’s iTech engineers identified the problem as being related to the copper wiring system underneath the SUB being corroded.
“[When] individuals would call, [they believed] they were being transferred to a person or placed on hold, but instead the phone calls would route to phone extensions that simply did not exist…the timing could not have been worse.”
Another major issue arose when emails were dispersed to students saying documentation needed to be resubmitted in order to complete their FAFSA verification process. The setback originally stemmed from what Riley describes as an “amicable divorce” from Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Unfortunately, the necessary changes made to the university’s financial aid operating system, Banner, were not able to be made while San Antonio students remained on TAMUK’s system.
“In each case, most students understand that we are coming up with solutions to meet their individual needs and want towork with their personal financial situations to provide financial aid packages that will allow them to thrive at TAMUK.”
– Dr. Terisa Riley
Senior Vice President of Student Affairs
The required documentation was requested in order to meet Department of Education regulations, where approximately 35 percent of university students are randomly selected each year.
It was deemed a necessary move by the university in order to comply with Department of Education regulations, even though asking for additional documentation so close to the beginning of the fall semester could prove to be cumbersome.
“If we are not compliant, we run the risks of under-awarding and not providing enough funding for those who need it, or over-awarding and later having to take back funds from students…” Riley said.
When asked whether these issues would have serious implications, Riley is optimistic the strides made by the university will prevent students from being added to the fall semester drop list.
Due to the delays in students receiving financial aid packages and scholarships, the university waived all $35 late fees as well as the $30 set-up fees required to enroll in tuition payment plans. TAMUK officials are adamant there is no reason for students to feel like they are completely out of luck.
“In all cases, in students with whom I have worked, we have come up with good solutions and they are still here,” Riley said.