Some students were surprised during the last two weeks to find notices in their campus email in-boxes alerting them of new balances due on their school accounts.
The unpaid bills stem from the university erroneously awarding more financial aid to students than they required to meet tuition expenses, said Terisa Riley, TAMUK senior vice president for fiscal and student affairs.
Some students told The South Texan they owe as little as a few hundred dollars, but others said they received bills for thousands of dollars.
Riley said Monday that so far the Office of Student Financial Aid has identified 102 students whose financial aid awards earlier this semester were mistakenly inflated. Riley said the accounting errors so far amount to $207,474.
“We understand that this situation inconveniences our students, and we regret that it happened,” Riley said. “We also understand that it may affect students’ decisions to attend Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and we are doing everything we can do to minimize the impact on students and enrollment.”
Students are awarded financial aid based on their enrollment as part-time or full-time students, as well as their classification.
Legally, the university is not allowed to award more financial aid than students require to cover their academic costs. This is why students are being asked to pay back the funds despite the university being primarily responsible for the mistake.
“By law, we are not allowed to give students a financial aid package that exceeds the cost of attendance,” Riley said.
Riley blamed an “internal process breakdown” for the latest financial aid office snafu. She said some students were awarded external scholarships and waivers that were not accounted for in their financial aid packages. Typically, the financial aid office conducts reviews throughout the semester of student external financial awards and adjusts aid packages accordingly.
“This regular review did not occur,” Riley said.
Officials caught the accounting errors during a thorough review of all students’ external aid about two weeks ago, she said.
The financial aid office experienced a similar issue during the fall 2016 semester when some students reported delays in receiving their financial aid because university officials were worried about awarding too much money to students without properly accounting for any external scholarships and other aid. At the time, one group of disgruntled students even petitioned for a redress of their grievances from the administration.
TAMUK’s financial aid office has experienced some turnover at the top.
The office has lost two directors in as many years. Jessica Thomas, the last permanent director, left in fall 2015. Her replacement, Darylann Thomas, served as an interim director between October 2015 and July 2016. That’s when the latest director, Lisa Seals, started. She remains in that spot on an interim basis.
If students learn they’ve been charged, Riley said they should set up meetings with a financial aid representative to go over their award packages so they can better understand how this happened to prevent it from occurring again.
Riley said students affected by the matter are encouraged to set up payment plans with the Business Office so that they can register for future courses in a timely fashion.