Students beware: beastly bureaucracy lurks in financial aid

In Opinion
1998 Archive Correspondent zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Embarking on my third semester here last week, I unknowingly stepped on the bureaucratic dragon's tail and was properly, if unexpectedly, singed by its blindly sprayed flames.

Like many other students here, I received a treasure chest in the mail the weekend before classes began. The chest contained the balance left from my grants, loans and scholarships after the appropriate fees had been deducted. A statement was included, listing the various allotments.

One entry puzzled me. It claimed I owed the school almost two hundred dollars. I should have paid close attention to that.

The first week here was busy for me. New classes. Finding out the instructors' expectations. Getting used to a different schedule. You all know the routine. I was too busy to even think about financial aid's billing reminder.

Finally, on Thursday, I went to Financial Aid to see why they claimed I owed them two hundred dollars.

After a brief wait, I got to see Vickey Collier, a counselor there. She was most helpful. She pulled up my records and attacked them like a mind-boggling puzzle; trying to see why I should owe money since any required fees should have been deducted before they even sent me a check.

Victoriously, she discovered what appeared to be a mistake in the computer program. Last semester, the funds forwarded to the school were less than the amount expected.

Although the amount was adjusted before a draft was sent, Vickey discovered that the computer had automatically carried over the decreased amount to this semester's budget -mistakenly short- changing me in the process. She assured me I didn't actually owe the money. Further, she told me that it wouldn't affect my ability to change my schedule through the Titan registration.

Grateful for the help, I went home, planning on changing my schedule that night. Unfortunately, when I got home, a message from Vickey said that she had found that I really did owe the money.

Here's the problem. On the very same statement that issued me a check, Financial Aid noticed an error in the amount payable, paid out the incorrect amount anyway and then proceeded to bill me for the overpayment that they already knew they were making.

Guess what didn't happen when I tried to register.

Luckily, Vickey was as helpfully responsive as she had been before. Interceding on my behalf because the overpayment was not my fault, she contacted someone in the registrar's office who temporarily waived the add/drop restriction.

Thanks to Vickey and some unknown person in the registrar's office, I managed to adjust my schedule on the last day of open phone registration.

I still owe the money, mind you, and I'll still have to fork over two hundred dollars. But that's better than getting stuck with classes I don't want.

What's gratifying about this whole affair is that every time I encountered a human being, they were all very helpful in trying to resolve my dilemma – although sometimes perplexed as to how it had ever occurred to begin with. It was a computer, compliments of some potentially inadequate programming, that originally sent me running around in circles.

The moral of this story is simple: Beware of computer accounting programs; they're more creative than you might think.

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