This article originally appeared in The South End's Winter 2019 Back to School print edition.
Having issues with financial aid can be detrimental to a student’s success and wallet.
Issues with students’ financial aid often leads to holds being placed on their student accounts — blocking their ability to register for classes. For some Warriors, holds may be a minor inconvenience. For others, it can result in deportation or a delay in achieving their career goals.
Senior accounting student Mahmodur Chowdhury first found out his account was on hold in September and said he didn’t think much of it at first. At the time, he had reapplied for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, hoping he’d be awarded additional federal aid, and said he assumed the hold was just a hiccup in that process.
Chowdhury said he visited Wayne State’s Office of Student Financial Aid and was informed that FAFSA needed a copy of his federal tax return for verification.
In late October, when he tried to register for winter classes, the hold on his account was still in place — putting his job as an academic student assistant for the College of Education at risk.
“I came close to a mental breakdown between this and exams,” Chowdhury said. “If I can’t sign up for classes, it will delay my registration and I could lose my job with the university. I keep thinking about how I’m going to take care of myself if I lose my job.”
Chowdhury is not alone. In the 2018 fall semester, 14 percent of degree-seeking students at WSU had holds placed on their accounts preventing them from registering for classes, according to the Office of Student Financial Aid.
“(WSU’s) policy is that if a person has an unpaid balance, they are unable to register until it is resolved,” said Shelia Stewart, bursar at the Student Accounts Receivable office. “In practice, WSU allows students who owe $1,500 or less to be able to register but prevents them from seeing their grades and transcript.”
Graduate biology student Shashwat Mishra is from India and is on a student visa. He said he had his account put on hold in August following a switch in campus housing’s payment policy from month-to-month rent to a single upfront payment.
“My tuition is paid for by the graduate school as part of my scholarship,” Mishra said. “But for some reason my rent money was diverted to my tuition money. It showed up as an outstanding balance on my account and I got an eviction notice from (WSU).”
Mishra said he spent much of September and early October bouncing from department to department trying to resolve the issue. In the midst of trying to find a solution, he received an email from the Office of International Students and Scholars.
“I got an email from OISS saying if you don’t register in the next week, your student visa will be revoked, which basically means they can deport me,” Mishra said. “I have to register for eight credits every semester as part of my contract. I couldn’t (register) because there was a hold on my account.”
Mishra said he was eventually directed to the Office of Student Financial Aid. There, financial aid staff were able to help him resolve the issue in time for him to keep his visa.
Senior theater student Sidni Goodman said she was unable to register for winter classes because she was waiting on FAFSA verification.
“First, (FASFA) asked for my transcript, then a statement about my mom’s marital status,” Goodman said. “I haven’t been able to register for my senior year classes. It gives me so much anxiety.
“I wish they would have just given me a list of all the documents they needed from me. I’ve been watching as the days go by, hoping my classes don’t fill up.”
Stewart said new federal regulations have led to more requests from FAFSA for student verifications.
“Within the last couple of years there have been new regulations for financial aid,” Stewart said. “Financial aid has introduced new conditions that students must meet. For example, (students) must show improvement on their academic process and can’t repeat the same classes. (FAFSA) often needs students’ final grades from the last semester.”
Students shouldn’t let their guard down when seeking financial assistance, said Louie Krause, associate director of outreach and retention at the Office of Student Financial Aid.
“Talking about money and debt makes people uncomfortable,” Krause said. “We want to do all we can to help students navigate the process. No question is too silly, and no question is too odd.
“Let us know what’s happening in your life. Say your parent lost their job, that’s important information we want to know so we can work with students individually.”
Sean Taormina is The South End's breaking news and WSUPD beat reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.