Just a few weeks before classes start, College of Southern Nevada students are still waiting for the college to tell them how much financial aid they can expect.
After a summer of silence, CSN sent an email to students Monday apologizing for the delay and telling them award letters would go out Sunday. Classes start Aug. 25.
UNLV sent out award letters in March.
CSN student Nicole Harms said not being able to budget her semester because she didn’t know how much aid she would be awarded was frustrating enough. But what was even worse, she said, was the school not explaining the delay to students until Monday.
“That was funny because that was the first line of communication that the school has had with the student body,” said Harms, who said she has called CSN repeatedly trying to find out what was going on with her financial aid.
“It’s like every time you call you get a different answer,” Harms said. “Everyone is giving you the runaround”
She once waited 45 minutes on the phone with CSN only to have someone hang up on her as soon as it was her turn to ask her question, she said.
Harms said she has been at CSN since 2010 and financial aid has been frustrating every year, but this is the first year it has been a big deal for her because now she is entering her second semester in the nursing program. Expenses pile up, and she wants to have her budget done. Last semester she shelled out $1,500 for books and $5,200 for day care, she said. Harms is worried school is going to start and instead of studying she will be fretting about finances, she said.
Harms wasn’t alone in her frustration. She and a few other students left messages on the college’s Facebook page in an attempt to get answers, and several students expressed relief after CSN sent an email update and posted information.
“That was a miscommunication, and we should have been informing students along the way,” Patty Charlton, CSN senior vice president for finance administration, said about CSN not sending out an update until Monday.
The financial aid holdup is because of CSN taking extra care to make sure everything is accurate in the midst of sweeping changes, she said. The college is re-creating the entire financial aid department, she said.
Last year thousands of financial aid recipients were underpaid or overpaid. The mistakes cost the college $1.7 million in repayments to the U.S. Department of Education. Charlton was assigned to help resolve financial aid issues after problems came to light in fall 2013.
Next fall, students will be notified about financial aid awards by the end of June at the latest, Charlton said.
CSN is planning to establish a financial aid call center to connect students with financial aid questions to people who are equipped to deal with the complexities of financial aid quandaries, she said. Details about the center are being finalized now, she said. The target opening is the end of the month.
One change students will notice is that while award notifications were late this go-around, students will receive the money sooner. CSN will start dispersing aid on Aug. 18, a week before school starts and several weeks earlier than the college has done so in the past. Legally, financial aid cannot be dispersed sooner than 10 days before classes start.
Charlton said that when all is said and done, everything should run smoother for students, including earlier notifications of financial aid.
“The sooner the better for our students so they can make decisions,” Charlton said.
Contact Bethany Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes.