$400,000 in aid returned to state

Tracy Ellingson

Despite ever-increasing tuition and calls for higher levels of aid, the University returned to the state $400,000 in unused financial aid from the 1995-96 school year.
According to a report by the Higher Education Services Office, the University’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid returned $400,000 in leftover work study funds last spring. University officials said students just didn’t take advantage of the money that was available.
The University receives about $1.5 million from the state in work study funds each year.
Members of the University of Minnesota Coalition for Higher Education, a student lobbying group, expressed their concerns over the report to the director of The Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, Sheryl Spivey.
UMCHE President Cori Ertz wrote Spivey in August, asking her what the returns would mean to financial aid in the future. Ertz said very few of the state’s universities have sent more than $10,000 in work study funds back to the state.
The refund, Ertz said, might send a message to the state that University students do not need its money. She added that the lobby group wants to make it clear to the Legislature that this is not the case.
“UMCHE’s responsibility is to make sure … that the U is using this money wisely,” Ertz said. “We need to make sure, on behalf of University students, that UMCHE is a credible source to the Legislature.”
Ideally, Ertz said, the lobby group could go to the Legislature and say that returning this money was a mistake.
But Robert Kvavik, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, said the money was returned simply because it was not used. “One thing is absolutely clear: this is not a question of students who needed aid not getting it,” he said.
Kvavik noted that the University can’t find enough people to fill all the jobs they have listed at the Student Employment Office.
Spivey said some students who were awarded work study last year either didn’t take a work study position or didn’t work enough to earn the full amount they were allotted.
In fact, more than 600 students didn’t used the work study money they were allocated last year, opting instead for jobs that put them on the University payroll.
Some students might not have used the work study they were awarded because paying with a loan is easier than waiting for a check every two weeks, Spivey said.
Spivey said her office even “over-awarded” work study funds by 100 percent last year, anticipating some students would decline their funds. Over-awarding is a process by which the financial aid office tries to compensate for the number of students who will either not use their work study award or will not use all of it.
This year,the financial aid office has over-awarded work study at 500 percent, Spivey said.
Another way of making sure work study funds are used, Spivey said, is to push departments who employ student workers to check if the student has been awarded work study funds.
It is to the benefit of a department to check to see if a student is eligible for work study, Spivey said. Departments will have to expend less on payroll since work study students are paid through work study funds, she said.
But, Spivey said, some employers have been reluctant to do the extra paperwork needed to employ work study students.
The financial aid office is doing two other things to make sure all of the work study funds are used this year. For the first time, Spivey said, the financial aid office is cancelling awards. Students now have only three weeks, plus a 45-day grace period, to accept their aid award before it is cancelled.
Part-time students are eligible for work study funds for the first time this year as well, Spivey said.
In a letter to Kvavik, Spivey suggested several ways to make work study more convenient and available for students, including a suggestion that the UMCHE president help increase the number of students who use work study funds by educating students on the benefits of work study.
One benefit allows departments to keep student employees whose work study runs out by putting them on the regular payroll. In the past, students would lose their jobs when their work study ran out.
But Ertz said Spivey’s suggestion alarmed her a bit because UMCHE is responsible for the lobbying aspect of financial aid and not for dispersing information about work study funding.
Getting students to take work study jobs is difficult, said Bruce Bromberek, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, because many of them are in food or parking services — jobs that students don’t really like.
Work study jobs are available all across campus and are not limited to certain areas, Spivey said.
Spivey has also suggested to the University’s treasurer’s office that an installment payment plan be worked out so work study students could pay their bill over the course of the quarter instead of paying the whole bill at the beginning of the term.
This year 2,465 students are taking advantage of federal or state work study funds, Spivey said. On paper, it appears that all of the funds will be used this year.
But others might still have an opportunity to take part in the program, she said. In early November, Spivey and her staff will calculate how many students are taking full advantage of the work study they were awarded.
Any surplus will be re-awarded to students who still wish to receive aid from the program.