Financial aid policy shifts stress student

After six semesters of attending Lamar, there is one thing that never fails to happen each term — I get a call or an email from the financial aid office telling me that there is some issue with my account, FAFSA or refund.

Every semester I get overwhelmed and have a panic attack because of this.

On Jan. 22, I received a call from the financial aid office and was told that some of the money I had received as a refund needed to be returned. Apparently, it is against Lamar scholarship policy to receive a refund of scholarship monies that come from the Lamar University Foundation.

I was taken aback by this news because I had never heard of this policy before — it was never stated in any of my application forms or acceptance terms. In fall of 2019, I did receive Lamar scholarship money as a refund.

I applied for three scholarships in the spring 2019 semester and received all of them in the summer. I gave all of this information to financial aid in July.

After talking to different staff members in the financial aid and scholarships department, I was told I had nothing to worry about because they hadn’t heard of this policy either. They told me they believed someone had called me in error or with incorrect information.

Later the next morning, I was told something completely different — that yes, I did have to give some scholarship money back.

One fundamental issue with the office of financial aid is that it seems like one can’t get the same answer twice from anyone in the office. If employees in the financial aid and scholarships office don’t know about this policy, how can they expect students to?

I had a meeting with the director of financial aid with my department chair present. I was told that it was a mistake that I had received scholarship money as a refund in fall. A mistake that I have to pay for.

According to the financial aid office, scholarships are “competitively awarded to applicants having demonstrated abilities and prior successful participation in such areas as music, writing, art, dance, or athletics. Factors in the awarding of competitive skill-based scholarships include evaluation by faculty and/or staff in each specific area. Evaluations may include but are not limited to video, film, audio-tape, auditions, student submitted works, or personal observations.”

What’s the point of applying for scholarships if you can’t take advantage of their benefits? What is the point of meeting the qualifications if I get nothing for it?

The financial aid director asked me why I depended on the money I needed to pay back so much after I told her that I had budgeted my whole year around my refund.

I told her I depended on that money to help pay bills in addition to paying for school supplies such as textbooks.

She then told me that I should not be using my financial aid money for anything other than school needs and living expenses, while stating that rent is not a living expense. I live with my dad and brother, but I am charged rent and help with other bills.

For me, living at home is the best option for my family financially.

I work two jobs (including one on this campus) just to make ends meet.

If I get evicted from my house, what does it matter that my school is paid for? Many students depend on financial aid refunds to pay for things other than textbooks or notebooks. That’s the reality of the average American student.

She told me that I could sit down with her and look at other financial aid options like loans. I took out a loan from Lamar a couple of years ago and it almost destroyed my life. I don’t need to look at other options because the money I earned was already given to me.

I worked hard for each one of those scholarships that I earned and received and I deserve those benefits — as all students do.

She asked me what she could do to make the situation better. I told her she could let me keep my money. She told me that couldn’t happen because then it would be taking money away from other students.

How can keeping money that was exclusively dedicated to a specific scholarship award hurt other students who did not earn that scholarship? If I give the money back, where does it go?

If I had known from the start that LU Foundation scholarships could only be used for tuition and fees, I never would have applied for or accepted them. But Lamar never disclosed that policy with me.

They only seem to tell students about these policies after something goes wrong. They are incredibly hard to find on the website, and that’s if you even know what you’re looking for.

I do a lot for this school — I’m involved in several organizations and do a lot of recruitment for the department of communication and media. I want to be proud to be a Cardinal.

But how am I supposed to encourage students to be involved in this school when all I feel is beaten down and betrayed by it? My experiences with the financial aid office have made me wary of this campus’ administration and I have contemplated leaving school over it.

If it weren’t for my personal commitments to the faculty, staff and other students on this campus, I would leave.

This policy is not federal — it is a campus policy described to me by the financial aid director.

The explanation given to me about financial aid at Lamar is that other schools have similar policies — Lamar should be the exception to this rule and set a better example. This policy should be changed, but at the very least, be made extremely clear to every student that applies for an LU Foundation scholarship.

At this moment, I’m not proud to be a Cardinal. I feel trapped in a broken system. And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.

If you have experienced issues with the financial aid office that you’d like to share, please email editor@lamaruniversitypress.com with the subject line “financial aid.”

Olivia Malick, UP editor

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