Increasing amounts of financial aid have made the community college track more affordable today. However, students who have been awarded financial aid are quickly finding that getting approved for financial aid and actually getting a check to pay for mounting expenses are not necessarily one and the same.
Community college financial aid offices are getting inundated with financial aid applications this year, as more students are finding reasons to head to these two-year institutions to prepare them for the workforce. At the same time, budget cuts are reducing the number of staff available to process this expansive number of applications. The result at many community colleges is a backlog of requests that will take many weeks to process.
This is not good news for thousands of community college students who rely on those financial aid checks to pay for basic necessities like food and rent, as well as the cost of tuition and books. If the checks don't arrive timely, some students are faced with the realization that they may not be able to live up to their lease obligations, purchase the textbooks they need or put food on the table. If financial aid doesn't come soon, some may be forced to abandon their education.
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In some cases, the colleges are doing what they can to help cash-strapped students eke by until the aid check arrives. Some colleges are waiving fees for late tuition payments and others are offering interest-free loans for books and tuition until the check comes in the mail.
Many of the financial aid office workers are putting in extra hours and taking work home to try to muddle through the backlog of applications as quickly as possible.
Students may also find colleges offering installment payment options that allow them to pay their tuition in smaller, more manageable, increments over a period of time.
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However, these types of solutions do not answer the need for money to pay the rent and basic necessities like groceries. In some cases, students have been waiting weeks, or even months, for that check to come. Others have been told they may not see any financial aid money until the end of the semester.
To illustrate the dire scenario, consider three colleges that are dealing with this problematic situation during the current academic year.
Holding on in Oregon
The Daily Astorian reports that financial aid is not coming as quickly as students would like at Clatsop Community College, and school administrators are unable to offer a date to expect the money at this time. The delay has been caused by the following:
- A new software program with many bugs that are still being fixed
- A short-handed financial aid staff, thanks to the state's budget crunch
- A record number of financial aid applications, as more adults are turning to community college
Clatsop is offering numerous payment options to waiting students, and it has waived late fees for tuition payments. However, students are still feeling the pinch, and some are unsure of whether they will make it through the current term without their money.
This video describes one student's plight when her financial aid was delayed.
Waiting in West Virginia
New River Community and Technical College is another school that has not been able to keep up with the demand for financial aid. Although students are repeatedly told that the money is on its way, many are facing midterms without seeing so much as a dime.
Patricia Harmon, financial aid officer for the college, told 59WVNS that many of the students were selected for verification, which means additional time is needed to verify financial aid documents before distributing checks. Staffers also point out that 600 of the 3,300 applications were turned in after classes began in August, delaying the process for those students.
No Money in Washington
The News Tribune reports that Columbia Basin College is also faced with more financial aid applications than it can handle, and students are feeling the pinch there as well. Severe budget cuts have left the financial aid office ill-equipped to handle the thousands of applications they receive for financial aid, veteran's benefits and work-study. The office even closed to the public temporarily over the summer to help staff catch up, and the college is offering an installment program to make tuition payments more manageable. Students have also seen waits in the enrollment office when they come in for course registrations and student ID cards.
Given the high demand for financial aid today, it would be prudent for students to consider any contingency plans they may have in place just in case their check comes late.
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