College Aid News: the Good, the Bad, and the Still Waiting

Here’s a statistic to make you blink. The FAMUAN Online, a student publication of Florida A&M University, reported today that the university’s financial aid office receives an average of 2,000 phone calls a day during the peak financial periods of the year. Two. Thousand.

The office has 18 staff members who answer phone lines. How’d you like that job? It breaks down to 100 calls a day per staffer during peak periods, but even if it were 100 calls per staffer per week, it sounds like a tough task. The article, not surprisingly, was about students’ frustration with FAMU’s financial aid assistance (or lack thereof) vs. administrators’ frustration with students who call with questions about topics other than financial aid, or who have Mom or Dad call for them.

One standout take-away from the article was the critical need to get your FAFSA done completely, correctly, and early.

At the northern edge of the country, the University of Illinois announced at very happy Foundation dinner that it broke its previous fundraising record this year, raking in more than $220 million. That’s not counting a separate 6-year-old funding campaign that took in enough cash to pass the $1.7 billion mark this summer. (That’s “billion,” not “million.” Looks like the University of Illinois is coping with the recession fairly well.) The UI Foundation website says, “The primary goal of this Campaign is to secure the reputation of the University of Illinois as the nation’s top public university.”

Define “top.”

Two months ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for low-income college students were going to be cut in half for students who applied before May 15 and denied entirely to the 130,000 students whose applications were received after May 15th— an application deadline moved up 4 months from its traditional September date. The Illinois state budget was broke and had no funding to provide for the huge jump in college students seeking state financial aid.

If any of those hundreds of thousands of Illinois students denied MAP grants are (or were) enrolled at UI, it’s great to imagine that some of the university’s new millions could go toward helping them stay in (or come back to) school.

Illinois wasn’t alone in its budget crisis. Several hard-hit states had to make grim funding decisions this year, including Indiana, California, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. In some cases, states had to cut back or cut out normally-appropriated college aid; in other cases, it wasn’t a funding cut, but a huge increase in college applicants that caused the budgeted grant money to run out early. And Pennsylvania’s state operating budget is still not resolved, so PA college students are still waiting to hear what’s happening with their state grants.

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