New system causes financial aid delays

Hundreds of students’ financial aid was delayed this semester because of a new computer system. Michael Scott, director of scholarships and student financial aid, said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board had problems when it installed a new computer system at its offices, delaying disbursement of financial aid all over Texas.

The College Access Loan is the only state loan that was delayed this year, Scott said. Upperclassmen were the main recipients of this loan because they were granted priority over freshmen by the Coordinating Board, he said.

Melet Leafgreen, assistant director of loan programs, said about 600 students took out a College Access Loan, and about 200 to 300 students’ aid money was delayed. She said it usually takes about two weeks until loans are disbursed, but this semester it took eight to 10 weeks.

Leafgreen said the B-On-Time loan disbursements were also delayed.

Tiffany Smith, a sophomore middle school education major, said she currently has a $5,000 B-On-Time loan. She said she heard about and received the loan from the financial aid office, so when her disbursement was a month late, she went to the office to get help.

She was originally charged a $25 finance charge, Smith said, but when she told the financial aid office about the problem, it removed the charge.

Leafgreen said the delays were hard on some students because they needed the money to pay for their TCU bills, groceries, books and rent. She said she wrote several letters to landlords telling them about the aid delay in order to extend rent payments.

“Some students had to borrow money from friends,” Leafgreen said.

Leafgreen said these students were not punished for their delay, and many students’ late finance charges were waived once their money came in.

Leafgreen said it was even more difficult for non-traditional students who quit their jobs to go back to school or for students who had children.

Mayra Hernandez, a junior marketing and supply chain management major, said she first applied for a College Access Loan her sophomore year and had problems even then. She said she got her financial aid two to three weeks late.

“It backed up everything,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said she had a hold on her account because of the late aid, so she could not register for classes on time. Once the money came in, she was able to enroll in most of the classes she wanted, but still had to pay for the finance charge due to the late disbursement.

Leafgreen said the financial aid office tried to contact the Coordinating Board for answers, and about half of the staff would spend about 25 minutes on hold waiting to get information on a student’s account. She said it took up the staff members’ time, as well as students and parents’ time.

“They actually turned off their phones for a week due to a ‘high volume of applications,’ they told us,” Leafgreen said.

Despite the poor service, Leafgreen said, the College Access Loan is a good loan for students. She said loan disbursements are usually not the fastest to be distributed, but it has never been this bad.

Brad Davis, a financial systems administrator, said Financial Services took into consideration all of the students’ situations. He said the department allowed grace periods for students whose aid was not in yet.

“The account could possibly be put on hold, then once aware of the situation, we would have adjusted and taken it off hold,” Davis said.

Davis said holds on a student account can affect their vending, laundry, printing and bookstore buying ability on campus. However, if students had a dining plan, they could still use their meal card and buy food, he said.

Davis said his department knew a majority of the students whose aid was coming in late beforehand, so they adjusted accordingly. He said if their bill was due for the minimum amount, financial services and financial aid worked together to lower the minimum amounts.

“I’ve been here six years,” Davis said. “This is the first time we’ve seen this to this multitude.”

Davis said the financial aid office gave him a list of students whose aid was coming in late, but some who were missed called and were also helped. The department was working with the students and their parents throughout the entire process, he said.

A majority of the financial aid is in now, Davis said.

Scott said he had a hard time communicating with the Coordinating Board and finding out the exact problem and cause of the delay. The Coordinating Board assured TCU that things will be better next year, he said.

“We hope to not go through this next year,” Scott said.