Lines still long for financial aid

The admissions, registration and financial aid line still doubled back on itself in Neuberger Hall this week but it’s expected to be worked down by the end of the week. For many students, financial aid became their critical concern.

Sam Collie, executive director of admissions, records and financial aid, was rushing flush-faced around the Neuberger lobby last week after his office attempted to make up for time lost due to the snow closure.

“I’m swamped,” he said over his shoulder as he scrambled to solve his next crisis. By the end of the week however, he could see the clouds lifting.

Concerning the lines for financial aid, he said, “Yes, the lines have been very long. Once we get through the remaining backlog of financial aid applications, the service should improve significantly.”

As last week ended, his office still had about 650 financial aid files unfinished. He predicted at least half of these would be cleared up before this week began.

By the end of this week, he said, “We should be ‘caught up’ with the backlog. There is, of course, a record number of applications again this year, so we will have new financial aid application files to work on.” In other words, no rest for the financial aid processors.

The crush was not unexpected. As long ago as December 22, Douglas Samuels, vice provost for student affairs, noted in a memo to all concerned that delays would be inevitable. At that time, he was less optimistic than Collie is now.

Noting the combination of an increasing percentage of financial aid requests from students, growing enrollment and losses in financial aid counseling staff, Samuels then said the combined pressure “has greatly impacted the department..” At that time, he predicted, “We will, however, be caught up by the end of January 2004 so that winter, spring, summer and fall 2004 awards will return to normal distribution schedules.”

The Samuels memo advised students, “If you have had satisfactory academic progress for fall term and have been awarded financial aid, your financial aid will be disbursed no later than January 31, 2004. Now it appears that Collie’s staff will beat that prediction by a week.

A previous Vanguard story had reported from Collie that financial aid found itself short three financial aid specialists due to various personnel problems but the shortage was being remedied. Samuels’ memo observed that Elaine Robinson, associate director of financial aid, was hired specifically to manage Portland State’s financial aid services.

“Under her leadership, I have every confidence that the department will very soon become successful and timely in its service delivery,” Samuels advised.

The principal gripe of some students waiting in the long lines is that, whereas financial aid formerly had its own lines, its lines are now merged with the line for admissions and registration. The service windows on the east side of Neuberger lobby currently bear the signs “All Services.” A small sign at the line entrance is printed “Admissions and Registration” but under it there is a paste-on label “financial aid.” A typical complaint of students is that financial aid students often take up more time once they get to the service window than students with simple problems of admission or registration.

One problem faced by some students is that there are two types of financial aid, one, a federally-subsidized loan for tuition, and the other an unsubsidized type good for “extras” such as rent and food. Payment of the tuition obligation can be delayed but no money for food and rent can prove crucial. One student, who declined to be identified, told friends her mother had to max out her credit card to keep her daughter in food and rent for fall term.

“My mom had to give me $1200,” she told friends.

Another complaint is that if tuition is not paid on time, students say they can’t get transcripts to apply at other colleges, or even look at the transcripts on line.

Kevin Freedman, a graduate student in creative writing, said last week he still hadn’t gotten his money for winter term and didn’t receive his fall term money until December 31. However, he was generally satisfied with the efforts of the financial aid people to deliver as well as they were able.

“The people at financial aid were very nice,” he said.

Under some circumstances, where the university may charge a late fee for registering, changing or dropping a class after the first week of school, he found the policy on the late fee flexible under current circumstances.

“If you ask nicely, they’ll take it off,” he said.