By Justin Buster
Have you ever had an issue with financial aid or the business office? Welcome to the club! I’ve been at Haskell since spring of ’09. I am a non-traditional student with a family of five and I depend on financial aid and scholarships to maintain my household.
When I first arrived at Haskell I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I just took things as they came and accepted whatever was thrown at me. I had no complaints. Today, nearly five years later, my frustrations have come to a head.
I receive up to 3 scholarships per semester not including my Pell grant. This semester I have already received one from the American Indian College Fund (AICF) and another from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Neither of these scholarships was handled properly by financial aid or the business office.
It would be one thing if my problems were an isolated incident, but I have trouble recalling any semester where my monies were distributed in a timely manner. This semester the financial aid office forgot to send in a portion of my scholarship application to my tribe. I received a letter from my tribe stating that I would have to resubmit my application because it was “incomplete”. The mistake resulted in me getting my tribal scholarship over a month later than I should have. When it did arrive it took the business office a full two weeks before I received my money (which is a whole other story). I also was selected for the Full Circle scholarship this semester. I got a reward letter in my email and I patiently waited for the funds. After approximately three weeks I called the AICF to see when I would get the check. I was told that they had already been sent out over a week before I called them. I went up to the business office only to be told they had not arrived. I was specifically told, “It’s not in CAMS” (College Account Management System). I went over to financial aid office and they said that the checks had arrived and they, “already put them in CAMS.” So I headed back over to the business office and they looked at me as if I was the problem. I metaphorically threw my hands up at the situation and went home empty handed. The business office sent me an email (that same day) right before they were closed stating, “We have your check.”
I don’t mean to rant. This is after all my experience with financial aid and the business office. There are other issues that affect all students who receive Pell grants or Scholarships. The policies here at Haskell change every year, especially when it comes to your financial aid and scholarships. When I first received a Pell grant here at Haskell you could pick it up at the business office and turn right around to the student bank and cash it with your Haskell ID. It was very convenient and it didn’t cost you anything. I know students now who have only two ID’s they can use to attempt to cash their checks. They have their tribal and Haskell ID. There are very few places in Lawrence that will accept either of these. Those that do accept these forms of ID’s charge up to fifty dollars for cash checking services!
The tribal scholarship policy has changed over the past few semesters as well. My tribe sends one big check for all tribal members who qualified for funding. The check has to be processed in order to divide it up into smaller checks for each individual getting a scholarship. In the past Haskell would process them on site. There was a 2-3 day turn around before you would receive your funds. Now Haskell sends the checks out to a third party company and it takes 7-10 business days.
One last thing I would like to address is the wait period for Pell grants. I have friends who go to other universities who wait only two weeks to get their grants. They also can use the money on credit at a book store to purchase books for their classes. This semester we waited just over three weeks and if you needed books before that you were out of luck. In previous semesters we had to wait eight weeks or six weeks. Not only that, you don’t even get your full funding. Haskell divides the Pell grant into two portions. They give one big check and then a smaller one later on during the semester. One semester they gave out the smaller check first and then big one second. They even took out tuition from the small check making it even smaller. I couldn’t afford books that semester and I know another off campus student who was evicted due to that policy change. She, like I, used her grants and scholarships to pay bills and rent in advance. Luckily that policy changed, but it only reverted back to what it was. In other words it didn’t improve.
There wouldn’t be an issue if the policy changes from semester to semester were good for the students. I have yet to see one that has not been for the benefit of the institution and to the detriment of the student body. It’s a funny thing to complain about free money, I know. At that point I just have to ask myself a few questions. Do I work hard for my grades? Yes. Do I have bills to pay? Yes. Does Haskell have the right to withhold funding for whatever reason they see fit? No.
My suggestion would be for financial aid and the business office to work closely together. There seems to be no communication between the departments. It’s also far too convenient for them to have each other to point the finger at when things go wrong. I had a meeting with Carlene Morris, she is the Financial Aid Coordinator. The meeting went well and Mrs. Morris assured me that she would address many of these issues I brought up in this article along with others. She also mentioned that if I knew of any students having problems with financial aid to come and see her immediately. She said her departments’ top priority are the students and customer service.