Wednesday, June 29, 2022

MSU students share mental health, financial struggles onset by delay in financial aid

February 4, 2022
<p>Office of Financial Aid/ student services for article</p>

Office of Financial Aid/ student services for article

Photo by Olivia Hans | The State News


That is how much money social work senior Xavier Perez’s mother made over the household limit for his Spartan Advantage Program, or SPAD, forcing him to take out $13,000 in loans. 

For Perez, who was accepted into over eight colleges, Michigan State was his first choice and a source of pride. But, he said his view on the university was forever altered when he got the notification his SPAD ended sophomore year. 

“My mom made I think $24-25 above the threshold, and so the (university) just took the scholarship off,” Perez said. “I had to take a loan out to pay for my tuition and my room and board. That’s something I had to do last minute.”

According to the Financial Aid website, SPAD is offered to the most dependent students at Michigan State, using non-loan forms to cover all charges. These qualifiers for SPAD are listed on the Financial Aid website, yet the terms of what limit the household income can be to be eligible for SPAD is unlisted. 

Perez said every time he went to the Office of Financial Aid, they told him to apply for scholarships or take out a loan, not knowing his SPAD was stripped from him.

“I had to go to the office every day, and I always had to provide different paperwork. Show them this, show them that,” Perez said. “But actually going to the office was bad because I had to go either in between classes or be late to a class or leave a class early just so I could be in the Financial Aid Office cause I’d be in there for over two hours … for no reason.”

For criminal justice fourth year Ross Luna, there was no warning when the Office of Financial Aid changed her funding. 

“My sophomore year, I actually had to drop out that semester because they wanted me to pay the four grand," Luna said. "They ended up telling me I did not qualify for Spartan Advantage, and I had to pay out of pocket for everything – my living costs.”

For Luna, attempting to balance academics with work affected her studying habits and mental health.

“Imagine you’re trying to work hard for your midterms, but in a week or two, you have to pay rent and you haven’t made it,” Luna said. “Those two weeks of midterms … and having to pay rent once you come back from Thanksgiving, you have to put in so much work. So much work studying for your exams – but you also have to put in extra hours at work to make it to pay your rent.”

As of Jan. 24, 70,359 students have received financial aid through grants, loans and scholarships. Roughly 60% of the undergraduate class relies on aid for the over $14,000 in tuition fees every year. With every passing week these students do not receive refunds for living expenses and classes, their financial troubles only deepen. 

Some students sit for hours without having contact with financial aid representatives. Weeks-late funding has left many underclassmen feeling that if the roles were reversed, the communication wouldn’t be the same. 

“I just hope future first generations don’t have to go through this constant battle with somebody that’s supposed to be there to help you,” Luna said.

The current issue of financial aid not being distributed to students is due to the Student Information System, or SIS, Michigan State Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen confirmed.

“We had some delays due to the transfer of our system, but that has been identified and fixed,” Olsen said. “We are greatly sorry to those it has impacted but as we have communicated to those students as well they would not be disenrolled from their classes during this time ... and we do not charge late fees during that time.”

While the university attributes the current refund delay to the SIS, the financial aid system itself has created issues for Spartans in the past. 

The financial aid website states funds that exceed MSU billing statements are refunded to the student beginning about 10 days prior to the start of the semester. 

For human development and family studies junior Shanna Lawrence, the lag in receiving financial aid funds from the university has cost her mental well-being and financial stability. 

Planning to pay off her bills and rent with her refund, it has been more than two weeks since Lawrence has heard from the Office of Financial Aid about her aid that still has not gone through. She said her February rent is due in a week, but because of the delay of her funds, Lawrence cannot pay January’s rent.

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Lawrence said her internet was cut off a week after she missed January's rent deadline, which made online schooling a burden for her. Then, she said she received a letter saying that if she doesn't pay, she may be taken to court.

“I hope to God they actually don’t, and I can get (the refund) in a timely fashion where I can pay it all off and all is forgiven, but I’m a little scared they’re going to take me to court for the money," Lawrence said. "I have it. … I just don’t have it.”

This isn’t the first semester Lawrence faced financial issues because of the disbursement of her refund. Two days before the beginning of fall semester in 2021, Lawrence received an $8,000 bill.

"They hadn’t applied my grants,” Lawrence said. “I’m just like, ‘Why didn’t you call before?’ It was literally 48 hours before the first day of classes.”

Anxiety wavers over Spartan heads regarding whether or not their financial aid will go through or be edited at the last minute, taking the focus away from classes and onto whether or not they can afford to live while enrolled in school.

“On top of being stressed academically and personal stuff, worrying about if I was going to pay my bills was just an even bigger stressor on (me),” Lawrence said. “I know when I got my refund check I hadn’t paid my rent for November yet because my car had broken down, so I couldn’t do Doordash. … I was forced to sit down and wait. By the time I got that (refund), I think it was about $1,000, my rent had gone up to about $1,000 – they charge by the day with the late fees.”

To Perez, no matter how much financial struggle he has gone through, his head will always be held high and nothing will get in the way of his degree.

“I always put mental health first before class, but I feel if I hadn’t had to deal with the financial aid office, then I would’ve been able to give more in class and paid more attention,” Perez said. “I still did well … but I feel I could have participated more in class or been more a part of it instead of stressing about something else.”

Students agreed the Office of Financial Aid should be easier to access and contact through its website. The overall goal of financial aid has always been to help students and now more than ever, students who require aid to get through this semester need this help.

No interest short-term loans up to $500 for undergraduate students are available to those who still need financial assistance to pay for rent and books while their aid processes.

For students who are stressed about their financial status, MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, provides access and resources through their website. CAPS also provides a 24/7 hotline by calling 517-355-8270. The Office of Financial Aid on 556 E Circle Dr. is open from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday in person, or over the phone at 517-353-5940.

Information and updates about Financial Aid can be found on the finaid website or through the SIS.


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