MANATEE — Some students at State College of Florida are complaining after the school suspended financial aid for more than a thousand of them.
Some have dropped out as a result; others have been able to hang on as students, but are unable to take a full course load; and still others continue to appeal adverse decisions about their financial aid, according to SCF students and others.
Out of a total enrollment of about 12,000, 1,571 students received notices that their financial aid, including federal Pell Grants, had been suspended for various reasons, according to Kathy Walker, director of public affairs and marketing.
Of those, 987 filed appeals, with 346 students winning reinstatement of their financial aid, she said. Another 51 appeals were still pending late Thursday, but were expected to be resolved by today, she said.
A handful of frantic SCF refugees no longer eligible for financial aid approached another local college, the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, for help, officials there said. But it could only admit a couple, they said.
New federal regulations require a review of academic progress for those receiving financial aid twice a year now, rather than once, Walker said. The change had the college scrambling.
“What’s unusual is the timing. They usually don’t get notification at this time of year, usually it’s before the fall semester,” she said. “The difference is not procedure, but the timing,” at the end of spring and fall terms.
“This is brand new,” she said.
C.J. Hunnicutt, president of SCF’s Student Government Association, said, “Last semester, it was Bright Futures (scholarships); this semester, it was Pell Grants.”
Those particularly affected had acquired more credit hours than the 60 or so that SCF requires for graduation with a two-year degree, he added.
“After that, people in Financial Aid wonder why you’re still there,” Hunnicutt said.
Although financial aid helps many worthy students, there are some who milk such programs, using the money to live on, Hunnicutt said.
He explained that such “students” qualify for aid and sign up for classes, but never attend. “It takes away from those trying to finish school,” he noted.
One local mom, Tina Florey, of Bradenton, explained the problem her daughter Kelly, 29, experienced at SCF.
“It was decided that my daughter would not be able to use the full Pell Grant she qualified for this semester,” Florey said. “Because Kelly did not finish her courses, due to illness, back in 2002, she is not allowed to access her financial aid until she proves she can finish her courses.”
“So, she had to pay out-of-pocket, and could only afford to keep one course,” said Florey.
Kelly coughed up almost $600 in fees and tuition in order to try to continue her education, Florey said. The community college has twice denied her appeals, she added. “It’s a mess,” Florey said.
A large number of those whose aid was suspended remain at SCF, using loan money or help from parents to stay in school, Walker emphasized.
“We are trying to accommodate students in every way possible, while complying with the recent new interpretations of federal regulations,” she said.
Alessanda Viera, a single mother, was told she had to bring up her grade-point average in order for reinstatement of her financial aid, she said.
Viera admitted that she had failed one class, but was hoping to pay an existing balance of $780 with financial aid money, she said.
“I explained I just got day care after waiting for more than eight months to be approved for it, and I just got transportation and I was going to be able to attend every one of my classes, and I was going to be better at school,” she said.
“Well, they basically didn’t tell me why my appeal was denied, and they couldn’t do anything for me.”
Still, there were many students who continued to qualify for financial aid and were glad for it.
“Without the Pell Grant, it would be hard,” said Luckson Jean, 24, of Bradenton, who hopes to graduate from the community college in May and go on to earn a four-year nursing degree.
His Pell Grant of $4,400 per year is a big help, he said, adding, “And you don’t have to pay it back.”