Normally, these articles begin with a tongue-in-cheek statement about whatever I happen to be frustrated about that week.
However, I’d like to thank the helpful person in the Financial Aid office who helped me deal with the email I received last Friday, Feb. 22.
I found out my financial aid application was being verified, a process that happens to countless students at ESU, and thousands across the country each semester who receive FASFA money in Pell Grants and SEOG money.
This process means that the students selected each semester are required to submit different forms, depending on their filing status and what information the government wants to know specifically related to one’s application.
In my case, they’re looking for a tax filing history and I won’t bore the reader with details.
What I find ironic is that we as students are held to a higher financial standard and are placed under more scrutiny than the Pentagon, who pisses away millions of American tax dollars each year.
Yet, the federal government is more concerned with using resources to audit people trying to put themselves through college, despite life hardships of all kinds.
The troubling part is not the audit itself, but the convoluted process and bureaucracy that ensues with each verification.
To clarify, I am not blaming anyone at ESU or anyone in Zimbar Hall because they are just doing their job.
However, this mess of government financial aid audits brings me to my next point, privilege.
I am fortunate. I was raised by grandparents who taught me how to navigate with authorities and officials because they knew they wouldn’t always be around to help.
If I wasn’t brought up that way, and had no prior knowledge of this system, except a reasonable distrust after being marginalized my entire life by the inaccessibility of the system, I would find myself out in the street with no degree to show for it.
This, all because of not being able to provide documentation.
It’s time for us to have an honest dialogue about not only the cost of college in dollars and cents but the human cost as well.
Are we as a society truly preparing our youth, all of them, for traversing an unforgiving bureaucratic landscape such as the American college experience?
I understand that the United States government is trying to prevent financial aid fraud and determine need.
Those actions in isolation make sense.
However, these audits should not be done through automation.
There is nothing more anxious than uploading paperwork to a server and having to wait 48-72 hours to know if more documentation is needed.
Even more troubling is the ineffectiveness of this system.
Like seemingly everything in 2019, this process isn’t handled by an actual government agency (in this case: U.S. Department of Education).
It is outsourced to a third-party company: School Servicing Center.
They are based out of Raleigh, N.C. and each time I would call the provided phone number to get confirmation or ask questions, I would get a different representative.
Each of these people would provide a different answer to the questions I would ask regarding the process, acting as if what the other person said was completely wrong, and made no sense.
I was fortunate to have someone in the Financial Aid Office who could give me their full time and attention to this matter, to help sort out the confusion, although it is not fully resolved.
For those who may be a freshman or just students with little to no experience in these matters, this process must be intimidating, or overwhelming.
Sure, there are people in Zimbar Hall to help, but for those who know that each day is a struggle, getting to class, keeping one foot in front the other, this kind of thing can be discouraging, possibly derail a college career.
The moral of the story is that if we claim to care about our future then higher education needs to serve everyone, not just those with money, savvy, or experience to navigate these challenging experiences.
These audits should be done face-to-face, with each step explained as to why it is necessary.
If we can pack a supercomputer into a portable device, then there’s no reason we can’t do better by getting the people the financial help they need to get through college.
There are countless thousands of people who don’t apply for financial aid each year because of the confusing nature of applications, and thousands who fall prey to the high-interest loans because their parents make too much according to a tax return.
Too many times, a tax return does not paint a holistic picture of their family’s financial situation.
Many families are paying mortgages, making just enough to pay bills and get by in an economy where wages are stagnant, and the cost of living continues to rise.
In order for our generation to be able to solve the challenges that lie ahead, we must make opportunities accessible for everyone.
Accountability is necessary, bureaucracy, vague language, and convoluted verification practices are not.
Email Cole at: