For just about everyone, Fall is a time for change. Leaves change colors, apartments get new residents, and all across the country, thousands of teenagers leave the nest for the first time to start the grand adventure that is college. This Fall, thanks to Financial Aid, many Bearkats had neither the change (nor the dollars) to pay their tuition on time.
There’s an old piece of wisdom that says that if something’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. Taking a page from the federal government’s playbook, Sam Houston decided to take a working financial aid system and replace it, at great expense, with one that doesn’t work nearly as well. Gone are the days where we had everything at arm’s length through the SamWeb portal. Now if we want to borrow money for tuition we have to trudge through the uncharted jungles of the Banner system.
Of course, the jungle wouldn’t be so hard to navigate if anyone had bothered to give us a map. After an exhaustive search of Banner, SamWeb, and the Financial Aid website, I have found nothing that even remotely tells students how to use the new system. For instance, they don’t tell you that the system automatically lists your loans as being accepted even when they’re not. It also doesn’t tell you how they play hide-the-ball with your ability to guarantee loans. In order to even find the link, you have to log into Banner, click on Financial Aid, click on Award, select your Award Aid Year, click on the tab labeled Accept Award Offer, click on the name of the loan itself, find the web address hidden in the paragraph and copy and paste it into your browser since it’s not a link. Confused?
So were most students. SHSU decided to go the extra mile here. Not only do they have the students confused but they apparently didn’t want the people who work in Financial Aid to know how things worked either. The first student worker I talked to in their office was actually on emergency loans himself.
Emergency loans seemed to be the answer for every problem students voiced to financial aid workers. Students sign for the loan, they get to keep their classes, and then when their actual aid comes in, the loan is paid off. Of course, there is a “small” interest payment. What they don’t tell you is that there is no outside lender for emergency loans, it comes from the university itself. For those of you keeping score at home, the university switches from a working system to a broken one, doesn’t tell anyone how to work it, then offers you a loan to cover their mistakes and gets to pocket the interest when it’s all over.
That’s like a mechanic breaking a part on your car then charging you to fix it. And while the amount might be small per student, when you multiply that small sum of interest by the thousands of students who probably took it, the university has made a pretty good profit off their own mistake. Sam Houston needs to admit they messed up and give the students who took emergency loans the interest back.
As frustrated as we are, the financial aid staff are the last people we should be taking it out on. They didn’t choose to switch the systems and they’ve been doing everything they possibly can to help. On Thursday alone, they answered 1600 phone calls and individually saw 900 students. When I was up there Friday, the line to sign in was stretching out the door and people were desperate to find any place to sit and wait for their turn. I honestly haven’t seen lines like this since the iPhone first came out. All the while, the staff handed out cold bottled water, kept smiles on their faces, and even initiated a program that let people keep their schedules until today.
If any good can come out of this situation, it is the reminder that private business will always be more efficient than government bureaucracy. In my situation, the lender was able to do in less than 24 hours what the university told me would take at least a week: get me my financial aid. Bank of America, who doesn’t exactly enjoy the best reputation as a bank, performed significantly better than Sam Houston. The reason being, their livelihoods depend on their ability to make the customer happy. There’s competition among banks, but only one Financial Aid department per university.