Community Colleges Contending With Financial Aid Backlogs

Compiled By Yaffa Klugerman
November 27, 2009

Many community colleges are having a difficult time keeping up with a record number of financial aid requests, causing students to delay registering for classes or drop out of school entirely.

WZVN-TV in Florida reports that at Edison State College, financial aid officers are dealing with a 50 percent increase in financial aid applications. As of the beginning of the semester, some 1,600 financial aid applications had not yet been finalized--although a college spokesperson attributed some of the backlog to late applications and incomplete information.

But Amy Grover, a student at Edison, told WZVN-TV that her information was submitted on time, but she was forced to drop out because she could not afford to accumulate debt without assurance that she would be receiving financial aid. "I would not have been able to pay for them if they would have decided, oh, we're not giving you any money this year," she explained.

At Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri, many students haven't been able to register for spring classes because of a backlog processing financial aid applications. The News-Leader reports that the school's policy forbids students who owe money to OTC from signing up for classes. That has some concerned that by the time financial aid is approved, all the classes will be full.

"We have done everything possible to provide more classes and more staff to deal with a huge increase in enrollment and the huge increase in the percentage of students seeking aid," said Hal Higdon, president of OTC, who was quoted in the News-Leader.

Larry Snyder, chair of OTC Board of Trustees, admitted that the school was "caught off-guard" by the surge in enrollment this fall, according to the News-Leader. But the college has since added a person to the financial aid department to assist in processing applications.

Other colleges are not so fortunate. At Napa Valley College in California, for example, severe cutbacks in state funding have prevented the financial aid office from hiring extra staff, reports the St. Helena Star. The extra help is sorely needed: According to Jill Schrutz, the college's dean of financial aid, about 1,600 student applications are now complete, compared to just 809 at the same time last year.

The Daily Herald in Everett, Washington, reports that many area colleges have seen similar spikes in requests for financial aid. At Everett Community College, 7,400 financial aid applications were received, and about 1,000 still need to be processed; last year, 4,600 applications were received.

"This is unprecedented," said Laurie Franklin, EvCC's dean of financial aid, who was quoted in the Daily Herald. She noted that her staff has worked more than 600 hours of overtime and comp time to process applications.

"Every day I hear the stories of students who can't pay for their child care or they can't buy food," she told the Daily Herald. "It's devastating for the students living it, and it's very trying on the staff to hear that. We want desperately to get it done."

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