Fixing financial aid

As a whole, the University and its administrators do a good job funneling the needs of 60,000 individuals into one dynamic and working structure designed to best suit all students. Still, a common criticism of the University is that bureaucratic red tape often makes officials unable or unwilling to handle difficult circumstances in which students sometimes find themselves. This problem is exacerbated during today’s turbulent economics, which finds unemployment up to 5.7 percent, because of the University’s stringent registration policies. Current policy does not allow students awaiting financial aid to register, hindering the education of students who have lost their source of support.

Northwest Airlines suddenly laid off 10,000 employees in September, and Fingerhut just cut 2,400 local jobs. When unemployment strikes, families often have to use savings set aside for retirement, vacations and even college tuition. Students who were previously fortunate enough to have parental support for tuition suddenly find the well dry and are forced to find other means. Most commonly, students turn to financial aid for support.

The problem is, parents don’t always lose their jobs at convenient times for filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. And when a parent loses a job mid-semester, a student is stuck waiting for aid to be processed. Meanwhile, the University has placed a hold on the account because of unpaid tuition, rendering the disgruntled student unable to register for classes. Frustrating for any student, it can be fatal to a student’s plan of graduating in four to five years.

Yet University officials say the current policy is fair and lenient. They point out the installment plan lets students pay their tuition in three payments – each one-third of the total tuition. But if a student isn’t able to pay one of the installments in full, he or she will have a hold placed on his or her account – a hold University financial aid workers say they are unable to remove.

“Early registration is a privilege,” said Julie Selander, associate director in the Office of Student Finance.

And school policy indicates those who are unfortunate enough to have lost their source of income or support are not worthy to receive such a privilege. The University needs to follow the lead of schools like Wisconsin-Madison that will temporarily lift the hold for students awaiting financial aid so they can register. Nancy Buechel, student aid supervisor in Madison, said, “There’s always students coming to us in this situation.” And so, naturally, they help those students.

The University is a public institution designed to educate. And this policy detracts from that goal. The Minnesota Student Association, President Mark Yudof and the Office of Student Finance must work to change this burdensome policy.