RAs told to return financial aid to UH
Around 30 UH residential assistants were caught off guard at a staff meeting on Feb. 29 when they were told they owed money back to the university because they were over-awarded financial aid.
Sophomore Journalism major Kathleen Murrill, a residential assistant in Cougar Village, was shocked to learn that she owed the university more than $5,000 after she had already paid off her account.
“I had paid my tuition bill in full in January with the help of scholarships, loans and the compensation from being a RA,” said Murrill.
“When I saw that I now owed back over $5,000, I was surprised and scared because I had no idea how I would be able to pay that.”
Several RAs are facing similar charges and many are not ready to simply pay without trying to fight the charges. As the issue has not yet been resolved, none are willing to go on record at this time.
“The RAs affected are understandably upset. There has been some organization with the creation of a Facebook page and emails to each other,” said Murrill.
“I think they just want to know why this wasn’t fully explained to us before we took the position and why we have to pay for this mistake.”
UH assigns each student an expected cost of attendance when they enroll based on multiple factors, said Executive Director of Student Financial Aid Sal Loria Jr. Students can receive up to that amount in scholarships and grants that are awarded based on financial need.
“We started hearing concern from some staff members that their financial aid packages were being readjusted,” said Executive Director of Residential Life & Housing Don Yackley. “Their aid was being adjusted down based on how much need they qualified for.”
Residential assistants receive waivers to cover the costs of room and board rather than monetary compensation, Yackley said.
“The RA waivers are truly waiving their fees,” said Loria.
“If you’re not an RA, you would have to pay completely out-of-pocket for those charges. So it is counted as a resource.”
Counting the waiver as a resource that impacts the student’s cost of attendance because it is considered needs-based. This amount is factored into the overall amount of aid a student is receiving and counts towards the university’s set budget.
“It was really the timing of when we received the (list of RAs) and how we posted those funds to their account,” Loria said.
“It happened after students got refunds and that’s what caused the charge back. Some students had been over-awarded.”
Once the financial aid office realized these students had been given more aid than their budget allowed, they had to inform them and reclaim the excess amount in compliance with federal law.
“Here’s a cup of water and this is how much aid you are eligible for. Financial aid filled the cup based on your individual situation,” said Yackley.
“Later, housing poured in the amount of what RA compensation is and it made the water spill over. Now we have to clean up the water and return it.”
The amounts owed back range from $100 to $7,000 according to Loria, but financial aid is working with each student individually to try and reduce the inconvenience of the costs as much as possible. Loria says he hopes they can lower the number of students affected to about 20.
“For any student that is left with an outstanding balance, it will of course be held at no interest,” said Loria. “We’ve paid back the feds so the institution will hold that debt as a zero, no interest loan.”
Murrill said she has found the financial aid office helpful in the month it has taken to get her account back to normal, but she is still struggling with the fact that the problem occurred at all.
“The situation continues to be frustrating because it feels as though RAs are suffering the consequences of a problem they didn’t cause or create,” said Murrill.
“I do believe financial aid and housing are trying their best to help the situation in any legal way they can, but either way, RAs are literally paying for (someone else’s) mistake.”
While Residential Life & Housing and the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid are planning to reevaluate their current system for processing the aid on residential assistants’ accounts, Yackley said no department is particularly at fault.
“Next year we are reorganizing the system to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” said Loria.
“It’s avoidable and, when done appropriately, (the system) works.”