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Struggle between students and financial aid

Students are not the only people who suffer in the financial aid process. Michelle Bergmann is bound by many federal regulations that keep her from helping students.
Dennis Wahlman / Mainstream
Students are not the only people who suffer in the financial aid process. Michelle Bergmann is bound by many federal regulations that keep her from helping students.

Although financial aid has already been dispersed, students complain about the process. If there is one thing the people working in the financial aid office would like students to know, it is this: they are there for you.

“At the end of the day the reason we’re here is to help you get your aid and understand. We are here to serve you, sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, but ultimately that is what the goal is,” Michelle Bergmann, head of UCC’s financial aid department said.

Kelly Macha, Loan Specialist, agreed with that sentiment, “That’s why we get into this business. We want to see people succeed.”

One of the issues that fuel the conflict between those who work in the financial aid office and those who receive financial aid is the lack of funds and resources, as is the case with many smaller community colleges.

“I wish we had a place where each student could come in and get counseled one-on-one. That would be nice. We just don’t have the facilities, or the resources to do that. That’s kind of difficult, to try and condense the information as best we can so that the students understand.” Macha said, “Your larger schools and private schools may have more one-on-one counselors, but rural community colleges — no.”

“We have a tendency at the community colleges to wear more hats than those would at a larger school.” Bergmann said.

The financial aid office at UCC tries to work on the students’ behalf. However, students seem to view the efforts as a financial bureaucracy.

“Here at UCC, there are long lines, and that is not something I really want to do,” Veterinary Medicine student Brianna Brennen said. Set to transfer to OSU in the fall term, Brennen found there was a large disparity between how financial aid works at the different levels.

“They have one-on-one counselors [at OSU], and most of it is done online. They also have call centers so you don’t have to go to OSU to ask one question at financial aid.”

“I think they [UCC] need to have more people with enough advice and information on financial aid so people can get helped. There needs to be a better system. Long lines just make people angrier and more frustrated,” Brennen said.

Music major Matt Brame has also found the process at UCC frustrating. “They don’t always tell you everything you need. I’ve had to go back and get documents that I didn’t know I needed. They are a bureaucracy like getting food stamps.”

Yet those who are tasked with doling out financial aid money are placed in a difficult position, having the strong desire to advocate and assist students while still being bound by the tenants of federal requirements.

“It’s harder than I thought,” Bergmann said of overseeing financial aid, “because you want to do so much more to help students, but there’s a lot of federal regulations. It was an opportunity to get in where I could help the students the best I could.”

Macha added “I wish it could be very clear-cut for students to understand, but it’s not. Even though you have been doing financial aid for years, there is a learning curve every year because there are major changes every year. That’s difficult.”

“We can’t just take a FAFSA application and say great, you’re qualified and give you money. It’s the process that we have to go through that takes a long time. It’s following regulations, making sure that when they change we are on board with those changes,” Bergmann said.

UCC graduate Stania Hellesdottir felt her experiences dealing with financial aid were almost entirely positive.

“I’ve never had any problems with them,” She said, “It’s been a good experience. Everything went smoothly with financial aid.”

Despite that, Hellesdottir understands why many people get frustrated with the process, “If you are really depending on financial aid, any delay will cause a huge impact. And some people are not as good at having documentation or paperwork. The financial aid office needing certain documents can be a frustrating thing.”

So while bigger colleges and universities will continue to have options for a more personalized experience, UCC will most likely, for the foreseeable future, have to continue to bridge that divide through patience and communication.