By Melissa Amezcua, Staff Reporter
Luis Fajardo thought he was on the right track when he applied for financial aid at Los Angeles Harbor College in early July long before the fall semester began.
When it didn’t come through like he expected, and classes began, he wondered what the holdup was.
“I walked into the financial aid office and found out I needed to turn in my parents’ tax forms,” he said.
“No one contacted me to tell me that.”
Fajardo, 21, Journalism, is not alone. Hundreds-if not thousands-of students began this fall semester without financial aid. Lack of communication from the college that coincides with minimal financial aid staff, students who misunderstand application rules, missing forms, district funding methods and just plain failure of students to check their college e-mail have all contributed to the problem.
“The financial aid is a complex process,” said Peggy Loewy-Wellisch, Director of Financial Aid Scholarships and Veteran’s Affairs. The financial aid office had 800 ongoing pending files that are waiting on documentation in October, alone. According to Loewy-Wellisch, the financial aid office has been putting in work for students by working beyond their normal business hours and coming in on some Saturdays to process files. She said, they receive applications every week and disbursements are made every week as well. Nevertheless, Luis Dorado, Vice President of Student Services, said there is a need for more staff. He is also looking at spaces around the campus to hopefully expand the department. Loewy-Wellisch said, e-mails are sent out constantly to those who need to provide further documentation to process their file. Checking LAHC e-mail is crucial which can be accessed when a student registers for classes on the LAHC website.
More than half of all students at LAHC receive some type of financial aid. So how are those students getting by without their aid?
Some students received helped from services/programs on campus. “EOPS helped me with the needed materials,” said Arelis Becerra, 18, Child Development. She applied early and received the first disbursement of her financial aid in September.
While other students had to use their own money. “I had to pay out of pocket,” said Jacob Novoa, 18, Mechanical Engineer. He came out of pocket $120 to rent his books for this semester before his financial aid came in at the end of October. Antonio Nunez, 21, Engineering, applied in March but also had to come out of pocket for this semester. Nunez has yet to receive the first disbursement of his financial aid and has not followed up with the office.
“Savings I had, from previous financial aid,” said Mitchell Egbunkonye, 23, Biology. He applied a month before school started and received the first disbursement mid-October.
And then there are those students whose families helped them out for the semester. “My brother helped me,” said Sarah Uden, 22, Child Development. She applied right before the deadline and received her first disbursement in October.
“I asked my parents for help, I have to pay them back,” said Teresa Bonilla, 21, Anthropology. She has yet to receive a financial aid award letter. She had to make corrections on her forms.
Another student with a similar problem to Fajardo, is Donaciano Mesina, 18, Business. He also had to walk into the office to find out he was missing the selective service paper. He applied early before the semester.
Students are being proactive by asking their teachers to place books on reserve, sharing books with other classmates and notifying their teachers about their financial aid concerns. Students are not the only ones being impacted by this. A few teachers have had to accommodate in their classrooms.
Spanish instructor William Hernandez had a student in his class that dropped out because of her financial aid not arriving in time. “Student couldn’t do online work,” he said “because the book comes with an online access code.” “It’s mostly the same answer-that its coming in November,” he said about students who are diligent in following-up with the financial aid office. Hernandez accommodated in his classroom by giving out make-up assignments.
Counselor Jassiel Dominguez, Puente Project Co-Coordinator Program, also accommodates students by not bringing book related assignments until a month after the semester starts. He lets his students know that they can meet with him if they are encountering financial challenges. Both saw the performance of these students being reflected in the class.
“When books can’t be purchased students are greatly limited in class discussions and assignments. This affects students’ motivations, self-confidence, and perseverance to finish this semester.”
A big problem financial aid staff encounter is the information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) not linking up with federal tax forms resulting in providing more documentation. Any slight change will cause a rejection. Everything must match.
Dorado’s advice to students, “Please submit documentation and apply early so we can process your file.”
The financial aid staff can help with filling out the FAFSA if students need help with the application. There are workshops that will also aid students in filing out the application to find out more about upcoming workshops you can visit icanaffordcollege.com. With the following semester, changes will come into the financial aid office a new system will take place of the old so this may cause delay in processing files.
The best way to contact financial aid with an issue is through e-mail you can also walk into the office to get the help you need. Every student’s file is different so the requirements will vary from each student. Make sure to get in your application before May first for the following year to have your aid in time when classes start to make the process as smooth as possible.