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Editorial | Miami needs to take reshaping the financial aid system seriously

By Editorial Board
On February 24, 2014

Gray, windowless walls surround a small waiting room equipped with four chairs cast off to the side and two desks with unsmiling Miami employees saying, "How can I help you?" over and over like a broken record. Students wait in line, their hands in their pockets, checking their phones nervously, at times even leaving the gray office with tears in their eyes their pending questions still unanswered, or not in the way they had hoped.

Welcome to the Financial Aid Office, an overlooked service in which the university does not seem to place a lot of value.

For the 76 percent of Miami students who require financial aid to make four or five years at Miami work, life isn't always easy when it comes to trying to keep up with one of the most expensive public schools in the state. What makes it harder for this 76 percent of students is dealing with their financial aid and scholarship issues in an office that handles these issues publicly, in front of everyone in the room and with few smiles and little helpful encouragement.

A service that should be an intricate part of Miami's core seems to be cast aside. For a university that prides itself on diversity and making sure all students have access to all of the amazing amenities it can provide, why are the services and overall environment of the financial aid office so unpleasant? The cramped office sits quietly on the first floor of the Campus Avenue Building (CAB), full of students embarrassed to talk about their money problems and financial aid issues in front of a room full of unfamiliar faces.

Most of Miami's services and operations have inviting rooms, full of couches and separate rooms equipped for private conversations between a student and a faculty member or an employee. The Study Abroad Office is one to note, with large pillars and warm, smiling faces always waiting to greet a potential study abroad student. This makes sense since Miami is consistently no. 1 in study abroad programs.

It only makes sense that since more than half the school has some sort of financial aid, the administration should provide an office worthy of its students, equipped to help them engage in tough and complicated financial aid conversations in an informative and pleasant way.

The Miami Student Editorial Board believes the reshaping of this service in its infrastructure and overall methods should be an immediate priority.

First, there is the issue that students are not able to set up individual, private appointments. Then, there are the bureaucratic ambiguities between the duties of the Bursar's Office and the Financial Aid Office. And more often than not, a trip to the first floor of the CAB building leaves students feeling alone and upset in a process that should be dealt with genuine care and sympathy by those who specialize in it. Since the Bursar's office and Financial Aid do not function seamlessly together, even though the offices are a couple rooms away from one another, a student must contact both offices to figure out what is going on if there is an issue holding up their aide. The Bursar's office can only disburse aid and scholarships when it receives the funds from the Financial Aid office, and when both offices claim the other service needs to be contacted, it is pretty exhausting, confusing and tiring.

An online Miami Student Poll asked, "Do you think services at the financial aid office are helpful?" to which 7 percent of students answered yes, 14 percent said the office could sometimes be helpful but needs improvements, 62 percent answered no and 17 percent said they were not sure. When we tried to contact the Financial Aid office seeking a comment on this poll, we got no answer the first time we called and were kept on hold for 10 minutes the second time, only to eventually hang up in frustration.

Even though we appreciate all the recent beautiful additions to our campus, the administration should not forget about the core services on which students rely every single day. The Financial Aid office is one of these services that should not be forgotten, especially since students are less than happy with it.

Needless to say, the first round of winter term scholarships and financial aid did not go great for students who needed it. Even though federal aid could be applied to winter term, this money would come straight out of money students could receive for the following spring term. A student would then have to make up the remaining cash one way or another to pay for tuition or books. Trying to study abroad in the summer isn't a walk in the park either for those who can't afford a $10,000-20,000 trip on their own. Financial aid should be working more closely with the Study Abroad Office in an effort to make sure students who don't come from families who can afford to send their kids abroad still get the chance.

It also shouldn't be a process that leaves students fighting to get their aid disbursed in time to buy books and other supplies before they fly half way across the world.

The timing is awkward with aid disbursement for most and students have to basically figure out how to front the money in order to go and then sit around and wait for the aid to come.

Students have even had to worry about being dropped from a program because their aid hasn't gone through to pay for their tuition in time.

The board believes this is a system that will continue to have some flaws, but it should be reformed. After all, with 76 percent of its students using financial aid services, it's about time the office and the system went through some significant improvements.

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