Financial Aid Fumbles, Frustrates Students


By Brandon Mazzei

Students in need of information regarding their standing with the Financial Aid office at Suffolk Community College may want to begin clearing their schedules now.

With the influx of new students, resources at Suffolk have become scarce. From larger class sizes, to a lack of adequate parking, students at Suffolk have been experiencing the growing pains of a developing community college firsthand.

A major downturn in the US economy has forced high school graduates looking to enroll in fall classes to consider their options in regard to attending local state universities. These universities are prefaced by the SUNY acronym, indicating that it is an official State University of New York. State Universities are generally much more affordable than private colleges, a selling-point that weighs heavy on the minds of financially conscious applicants.

 Boasting its claim as one of the top community colleges in the country, Suffolk is a popular first-choice for students looking to pursue a more humble college experience. Obvious upsides include a relatively inexpensive tuition, as well as the opportunity to commute to class from home, rather than living out of the traditional college dorm. This allows many attendees to maintain their friends, jobs, and love interests while still pursuing a degree in higher education.

While Suffolk may seem like a match made in heaven for some, others are crying foul. With the beginning of the college year comes many new financial aid applications which must be sifted through and reviewed by the diligent secretaries that comprise the financial aid office. These applications allow students to see if they are eligible to receive grant money to cover either a part of their tuition or potentially the entire cost of enrollment.

Also, the Financial Aid office is responsible for handling all of the necessary paperwork that goes into supplying student loans to those in need. A hefty workload indeed, consultants working for the office have found it difficult to keep up with the challenges presented by a growing campus population.

“I’ve never seen that many kids here before. It’s ridiculous,” said Jason Duckfield, a former student. After taking one look at the line that stretched around the corner of the Financial Aid Office, he decided it was in his best interest to perhaps come back another day, when the line would surely be shorter and their would be less of a wait. Duckfield said he was looking for information on how to settle his balance on past loans with the college.

He offered up some meaningful insight into how the college may have operated just a few years prior. “When I went here in ‘03, there was still a lot of students, but things didn’t seem so congested…I was shocked how long the line was just to talk to someone from the office, and of course they never answer their phones, so I had to come down here” he said. “Plus it doesn’t help matters that they only have one secretary assisting a line of what must be 30 or 40 students, it’s just not practical.”

When contacted regarding the effectiveness of calling the Financial Aid office to obtain information rather than coming down in person, Secretary Colleen McEnanney explained “The only information we can release over the phone is general information. We have to be careful about what kind of information we give out.” Indeed, stringent laws prevent the release of most information over the phone, rendering it an ineffective means of communication in regard to the Financial Aid Office.

Michaeal Pizzitola, a prospective student at Suffolk ran into a roadblock while applying for fall classes. After being denied financial aid, Pizzitola was hopeful that taking out a student loan would provide him the necessary capital to secure classes this fall. After being informed that his loan would not be processed for six-to-eight weeks, Pizzitola was left in a troublesome position. His options included borrowing the enrollment funds from family or friends, or waiting until the spring semester started to begin classes.

Pizzitola offered up his take on the situation by stating that “last year it only took three weeks to process my loan request, and now it’s going to be more than double that. What has changed?”

Pizzitola is not alone, as many new students have been struggling to find a way to cover fall tuition, as well as other costs such as textbooks, without the aid of a timely loan from the college. To make matters worse, an increase in students has put more pressure on those working inside of the Financial Aid office, assuring that waits to speak with representatives remain substantially longer than they have been previously.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no easy fix in sight. Students are urged to visit the Suffolk website where a special section is dedicated to Financial Aid frequently asked questions. While this may do little to satisfy the collective appetite of those in need, it may prove to be useful in deterring students who may have come to the office to ask about a subject that has been previously covered online.

Until some radical changes are made to the Financial Aid Office, students may be forced to reconsider methods of covering college expenses without the immediate help of a student loan. As if that weren’t bad enough, excessive waits to speak with representatives have students turning to walk away. If this problem is not rectified in a timely manner, students will surely be left clamoring for solutions.

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