Students frustrated by delayed access to refunds

by Beacon Staff • October 19, 2005

Because of a long-standing Emerson College policy, students with federal and institutional aid may not be able to access refunds from their grant money, which many use to pay for rent and other living expenses, until the end of the month.,"As apartment expenses pile up, some Emerson students, like junior TV/video major Jeremy Hardwick, have found themselves strapped for cash and incurring debt, despite having taken out plenty of student loans or grants.

Because of a long-standing Emerson College policy, students with federal and institutional aid may not be able to access refunds from their grant money, which many use to pay for rent and other living expenses, until the end of the month.

"I had September's rent covered and everything, but I have just realized that I don't have any money for food and utilities from last month, let alone this month's rent," Hardwick said. "I've had to resort to begging my family."

Loans and grants are applied to the student's account as soon as the school receives them, according to Michelle Smith, the assistant director of Student Administrative Services.

The aid money goes toward the tuition bill, and the student can request a refund for any extra money received, Smith said.

But, since grants can only be given to full-time students, students cannot receive their refunds until the end of the add/drop period, which is a two-week timespan when they can adjust their schedules, Smith said. This is to ensure that students remain full-time and, therefore, grant-eligible.

Smith estimated that roughly two dozen students have disqualified themselves from grants they were awarded by dropping to part-time status this year.

Smith said students fall to part-time status because some decide to take internships that are not worth the full 16 credits, and others are unable to get into the classes they want, so they keep a part-time schedule.

After the add/drop period ends, it still may take up to two weeks for students to receive their checks, Smith said.

The policy outlining receipt of refund checks is written on the the 11th page of the financial aid award letter packet.

Some students, like junior print journalism major John Kudlicka, did not see the policy and were relying on the refund money to pay their living expenses.

"I had to pay $1,800 up front for first month's rent, last month's rent and security deposit, and then I had to pay another $300 for [real estate agent's] fee," said Kudlicka, who lives in Allston.

Although this process has caused difficulties for some students, Smith said awarding grants in September would be problematic for the college.

"We could request the money up front without checking people, but then we'd have to return the money to the government if we find out [that they are not full- time students]," Smith said.

Smith said the college has no plans in place to free up the funds earlier for those who may need the money in September for move-in expenses.

Hardwick said he wonders why a college with so little housing would make it so difficult to move off campus.

"[Many] of Emerson's students are off-campus so you would think that the school would try to cater toward them," Hardwick said. "If it's their policy [not to make allowances for these students], then so be it, but it's not a very good one."

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