Financial aid obstacles affect thousands of students

Thousands of students are unable to enroll in classes due to administrative hurdles in the financial aid process, which may cause some students to leave school before finishing.

The Student Verification and Los Angeles Promise application processes for financial aid can be confusing. Students are unable to enroll for classes while waiting to be verified to receive financial aid, according to Senate Treasurer Angela Belden.

Vice President of Student Services Earic Dixon-Peters said that one of his priorities is making sure that students’ financial paperwork is in order. Dixon-Peters said that around 70 percent of students that owe fees do not return to Pierce College.

Pierce College Academic Senate leaders addressed these issues with the financial aid process at the Academic Senate meeting on Wednesday, March 25.

According to Belden, students who are selected for verification are often already disadvantaged.

“The federal government selects them for verification, which creates another barrier or hurdle for  them that they have to then prove some of the information that they provided on their FAFSA,” Belden said.

Dixon-Peters explained that less than half of FAFSA applicants actually enroll in classes at Pierce College.

“We got about 17,000 applications from FAFSA saying that this student indicated that they are interested in coming to Pierce and applying for Financial Aid,” Dixon-Peters said.” Of that 17,000 we only get about 9,000 that are applying to Pierce College and of that 9,000 it would probably go down to about 7,000 that are actually enrolled.”

Dixon-Peters said that a lot of resources are already being allocated to address this problem.

“For those who have an incomplete application, we have a team of people calling them on the phone, making direct contact,” Dixon-Peters said.

According to Belden the issue is a district-wide problem.

“The district itself is woefully behind and we are still verifying now, in the spring semester, people from the fall semester, which means they didn’t get their financial aid disbursement in the fall,” Belden said. “They haven’t gotten a financial aid disbursement in the spring, and we’re not talking about a few handfuls of students. We’re talking about thousands and thousands of students at Pierce College, even tens of thousands.”

When Belden asked what the district is doing to solve this problem Dixon-Peters responded, “I’m not worried about the district. I’m worried about Pierce College directly.”

LA Promise students are also having difficulties with the financial aid portion of the application process, according to Distance Education Coordinator Wendy Bass.

“I have a high school-age student and all his friends’ parents are calling me. I can’t even find a breakdown on the website to give them accurate information, especially about the LA promise,” Bass said.

Bass urged the committee to find a solution to this problem.

“The website still says May 1 is the deadline, so we’ve got to find a way to get those students the accurate information,” Bass said.

According to Dixon-Peters, the issue of student enrollment is a distraction from the issue of student retention.

“If I’m just focusing on access, I’m not going to make up my retention issues and my enrollment issues,” Dixon-Peters said. “I think we should focus on retention.”

Dixon-Peters explained that Pierce College loses more students from Fall to Spring than it takes in every year.

“Every single year, we take about 5,500 students in. By the end of Fall, before Spring, we lose about 7,000 to 8,000 students,” Dixon-Peters said.