Financial aid a maze for students
January 28, 2009 9:22 AM
As the frantic first days of a new semester begin, many among the forty-seven percent of SF State students who receive financial aid encounter all kinds of hurdles.
The forms and personal identification numbers, the mailings and waiting, the awards and holds, are all common obstacles students face in the process of receiving college money.
"I didn't even know there was such a thing as a Pell Grant until my second year," said Andrea Fender, a Kinesiology major.
Fender thought a visit to the financial aid department would be horrible, until she did it. "It's really easy," she said, and this year "as always, they have been efficient and remarkably friendly."
But she said, "It's like anything else. Come in prepared" to avoid anything slipping through the cracks.
After acquiring aid, students must be careful not to lose it.
Until recently, Bryan Steel, a transfer student from City College of San Francisco, had been an admirer of financial aid and found the process helpful.
Then his Chafee Grant got lost somehow in his transfer. "I'm actually going to City College today," he said on the first day of class. "There is no record of me receiving the grant. I'm a special case."
Students can lose their aid in many other ways. The most common of which are listed on the Financial Aid Department's website.
Some students may not take enough units to meet the requirements. The financial aid department said this is the most common problem, usually because waitlisted units don't count.
Others may not maintain the required GPA for awards, which is a 2.0.
Students can also exceed the maximum degree unit limit, according to the financial aid office. For graduate students, it's 75; for undergraduates, it's 175 - a number that is tougher to stay away from the longer a student is in school.
Alex Sarmiento plans on attending SF State in the fall. He is currently enrolled at City College of San Francisco. An intermittent student since 2000, Sarmiento has already exceeded City College's maximum unit limit, and is now thinking about careful progress through SF State.
"At first I was just going through the motions," said Sarmiento on getting an associate degree in little more than three years without financial aid. The maximum unit limit does not change if units are incurred without aid, he said.
Sarmiento is planning his courses carefully while preparing for a major in Creative Writing.
"It's really embarrassing," he said of the whole process. "I haven't even told my family about this."
Barbara Hubler, Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid, had reassuring words for students concerned about exceeding the unit limit.
"Certainly why they have exceeded plays a part," said Hubler of the Satisfactory Academic Progress Appeals Committee's role in considering requests to exceed maximum unit totals, "but the committee is in no position to judge. A plan for the future is the most important part."
Hubler said the Satisfactory Academic Progress Appeals Committee meets twice a month, and has representatives from the Financial Aid Department, Disability Profiles and Research Center, Student Affairs, Associated Students, Undergraduate Advising, and EOP.
Hubler said with a "viable graduation plan that includes graduation in the shortest time possible," first time appeals are usually approved. According to Hubler, the second appeal is "much harder to get," and there is no third appeal.
Every college develops its own process for monitoring a student's academic progress based on standards set by the U.S. Department of Education. Those standards include a minimum C or better grade point average, a maximum time limit for a student's program, and specific appeals procedures for students.
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