Trustees hear students on financial aid
Funds still late despite shorter lines
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 01:02
While trustees were slated to pass a litany of new board policies at the Peralta Community College Board meeting on Feb. 12, the public was intent on turning the conversation towards financial aid.
A number of students complained about not receiving their aid checks on time, many being forced to wait until after the semester was already completed before seeing any money.
“As students we have trouble understanding why we can’t get aid at the beginning of the semester,” said Mark Wilson, a business student and former scientific lamp manufacturer who lost his home and his job when the economy went into recession.
“There are still students who are hurting, students who you will never hear from again, who have given up and walked away because of the problems they’ve encountered with financial aid,” he said.
Amador Hurtadl has been attending classes in the Peralta District for the last three years. “Two weeks into the semester I walked up to find my student loan money was missing, and I had been terminated from financial aid,” he said. “They said ‘we stopped processing you because you were missing a document,’ but they never contacted me.
“I earned a 4.0 GPA the last two semesters, and just applied for transfer to a UC, but at this point I might have to drop out of school because of financial issues,” he said. “It’s hard to study when you don’t know how you will buy groceries next week and pay rent next month.”
Other students were informed their financial aid had been canceled due to poor grades or classes they had dropped. But students like Wilson claim that the problems they are facing with the financial aid office are having a direct effect on their ability to complete and perform well in classes.
According to Wilson, he was forced to sign a petition that stated he would complete all of the classes he enrolled in or forfeit his financial aid. “Being homeless, I had to drop a class. I had a 4.0 in summer and fall sessions, but my spring aid was cancelled,” he said. “I’m in a bind, I feel like I’ve been set up.”
Several members of Laney’s faculty and staff also came out in support of the students.
“I always feel students should be first. What can I do in my capacity to make the experience of students better?” said James Blake, president of Laney’s classified senate. “We should do our utmost to ensure they’re successful in the Peralta system.”
Chris Weidenbach, an English instructor at Laney, also came out in support of his students. “The system of disbursing financial aid needs improving. Anything that can be made more complete, I believe that we have good faith among all parties to perfect them,” he said. “I wonder how many students the students who came out tonight represent. If it’s one student, it’s too many.”
While the students and staff did appreciate that issues with long lines and wait times at the financial aid office had improved, they concluded that the changes simply weren’t enough.
“In the future, it would be nice if financial aid acted as an advocate for students and not an advisory,” student Shawn Walker said.
For the trustees’ part, only Bill Withrow offered a response. “I’m really tired of problems with financial aid. I don’t understand why we can’t fix this,” he said.
“One issue that is apparent is a focus on expectations. There doesn’t seem to be a sense of what the expectations are, when you get your money, etc. Somewhere along the line we should be able to communicate to our students.”