SGA looks to improve financial aid
The Student Government Association is looking to help students struggling with financial aid with a proposed financial aid advisory committee and the passing of a resolution.
The bill and resolution were passed at the SGA’s last meeting and are pending administrative review.
CLASS Sen. Gus Forward said each semester the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid is flooded with students.
Forward said that every university has problems with financial aid, but in Texas not enough funds are available each year because of increasing enrollment.
"There’s always something wrong with financial aid," Forward said.
Funding for financial aid
The resolution, written by Forward and At-Large Sen. Brandon Brewton, proposes that for every dollar raised through the University’s capital campaign fund, 20 cents should be put in financial aid, matching the contributions gained from tuition.
Capital campaign funding, which comes from private donations, helps 19 colleges, programs and departments through allocations for operations, scholarships and special program support, according to the University of Advancement Web site.
Texas deregulated tuition in 2003 to safeguard students who were on financial aid. For every dollar increase in tuition, 20 percent goes to financial aid while the other 80 percent goes to the University.
"This is a way to actually broaden our horizons a little bit," Brewton said.
The SGA resolution is intended to help students in need of financial aid. These students are normally neglected by the administration because of a lack of a communication, he said.
Brewton also said one thing that he has noticed is that the University seems to raise tuition in order to raise the financial aid.
The University witnessed a 6.9 percent increase in tuition and fees for the fiscal year. With the rise comes a total of $13 million in increased revenue and out of that, about $2.2 million has been set aside for financial aid programs.
The UH-System Board of Regents approved a "sliding scale" formula in April for determining this year’s tuition based on the final state funding to the University, but the board opted for a smaller increase to reduce costs for students, regent Leroy Hermes said in August.
Biology freshman Krystin Ramos said that it’s unnecessary to raise tuition in order to raise financial aid.
"I don’t see the point in raising tuition," Ramos said. "A lot of students have problems with financial aid, so why would UH want to raise the tuition? It just doesn’t make any sense."
Communicating with students
SGA passed the bill, planning to create a committee designated in evaluating policies and procedures, and it will also notify students of any policy changes.
The committee will be run by faculty, staff and students and will advise the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid.
"We came up with the proposal because we thought it would be the best way to get students involved with the process and policies and to help with communication," SGA Vice President Sam Dike said.
This semester alone many students have complained about their student loans not being dispersed on time, citing lack of communication.
Administrators attributed the problem to file conversions from PeopleSoft 8.9. Before the first week of school ended, $16 million in loans still needed to be dispersed, Sal Loria, interim director of Scholarships and Financial Aid, said.
Brewton said that Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid doesn’t provide financial aid notification in a "proper fashion."He said the lack of communication between the office and students and the bad customer service go hand-in-hand.
"Each student should have a particular financial aid counselor," Brewton said. "Someone a student can be comfortable with."
Dike said that students will have more of a say when it comes to policies because of the committee.
"The goal is for students to review policies and procedures to see what works and what doesn’t work and to make suggestions," Dike said.
He said committees are developed to think of creative solutions to problems.
SGA representatives did not provide any additional details on how to improve communication between the administration and students.
CLASS Sen. Aleah Al-Sad said the idea for the bill first started because of the large amount of students who had issues with financial aid – ranging from late awards, bad customer service and waiting in line for hours to ask a simple question.
"The biggest issue is lack of communication," Al-Sad said. "A majority of people don’t know what’s going on behind the desk."
University Studies freshman Suong Le said that communication is a major cause for concern, and that having a committee to address shortcomings would prove beneficial.
"From my experience, it was really hard getting a hold of the (financial aid office) and finding my pending financial aid," Le said. "I think the system needs to be improved ahead of time to see if you need to work for your tuition."
Education freshman Ana Aguirre said that despite SGA’s efforts, she was still unsure of the bill and resolution.
"I wouldn’t mind receiving more money, but I think it would be a bigger problem if more people were receiving more money," she said. "It seems like there’d be an even longer delay than there is now."
SGA President David Rosen said that the general lack of understanding from students about financial aid processes and disregard from staff at the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid are the problems.
"We just need to talk to each other," Rosen said. "We can remedy that situation with more staffing."
Loria said he thinks the bill and resolution are a good idea.
"We’ve already had several meetings with the administration and (are) looking at ways to better improve processing and improve the way we communicate with students," Loria said.
He said the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid is working on different ways to keep in touch with students. Loria stressed that students need to keep their e-mail and contact information current to avoid any communication problems.
"We have done everything we can to communicate with students, mostly with e-mail," Loria said. "The way that students communicate now is different from five years ago. We’re looking into those things and trying to stay involved."