Students returned to Southern University for the Spring 2020 semester and were greeted by predictably long lines, delays, and continued confusion stemming from Southern University’s Financial Aid process.
The issue is due to a combination of factors that include a lack of manpower, a lack of internal communication and organization from different departments on campus, and a lack of communication and understanding by the students. This along with both faculty and students being unaccustomed to the new “consolidated banner” system ensured that this semester’s registration period was especially hectic.
Executive Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, Dr. K. Michael Francios, is however committed to improving the process and ensuring a smooth transition to campus life and a smooth matriculation through Southern University, “[The Financial Aid Office] is working to make sure that students know how much aid they receive, how much money is owed to the university, to ensure that [the students] can just focus on getting excellent grades.”
Toward that goal, Dr. Francios explained in an interview that the Financial Aid Office is not the absolute authority at Southern University when it comes to billing information. The Business Office is in charge of the money transactions between students and institute. Thus, the office is in charge of issuing balances, dispersing refunds, and was the office that handled deferred payments prior to their cancelation.
The Office of Financial Aid is solely in charge of scholarships, grants, and federal and/or state financial aid. The office can apply the aforementioned aid onto the account, after its approval, and if there is a balance remaining or a negative balance, that then goes off to the Business Office who will then collect the balance owed or will disperse the negative balance in the form of a refund.
This past registration period was slightly unique in that deferred payments were no longer an option, instead students and parents could enroll into a payment plan that would split the remaining balance into a three month installment plan with a twenty-five dollar sign up fee. The cancelation of deferred payments caused confusion as students and parents, accustomed to deferred payment system, struggled with the new online portal for the installment plan.
The registration period is further complicated by the fact that students often times do not have their scholarships processed prior to arriving on campus, “I tried calling, emailing, nothing. Then I had to go stand in line all day, only for them to take thirty seconds to punch in my scholarship. Why did it take me going into their office for them to type in a scholarship” questioned Avery Waddell, a recipient of a scholarship from the Dolores Margaret Richard Spikes Honors College, as he recounts an experience echoed by many out-of-state students.
All these issues culminated in, as aforementioned, a predictably horrible registration period. It should be noted, however, that while the Financial Aid Office is not responsible for every issue, it receives most of the students and parents’ ire.
But Dr. Michael Francios is committed to fixing and streamlining the enrollment process as he began the process of centralizing all the scholarships and grants that are offered by the different departments on campus. Currently, the Financial Aid Office has to wait for the different departments to submit the individuals who have been approved for scholarships, but the departments have to wait for their budgets to be approved to ensure the availability of funds, “We receive the scholarship recommendation forms, from different departments,” said the Associate Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, Taisheieka Davis. By centralizing it and having the Financial Aid Office disperse scholarships, it would save time and manpower.
With February being Financial Aid Awareness month, Dr. Francios urges students to come in and help the Financial Aid Office get better at assisting you and get yourself educated about the entire financial aid process. Their office will be advertising opportunities for financial literacy and a one on one with a counselor to help you with your 20-21 FAFSA.