Nearly a month into the fall semester, some Cal State Fullerton students are struggling to pay for classes and textbooks as they wait on delayed financial aid checks from the university.
The CSUF Office of Financial Aid typically tells students how much money they will receive for the semester as early as June. Some students depend on financial aid to not only cover their tuition but expenses like books, access codes and transportation.
The new Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, granted $6 billion to colleges and universities in the United States for student financial aid, with over $20 million delivered to CSUF.
If students did not yet have the Anticipated Aid hold on their account,they were encouraged to enroll in payment plans while their aid was reviewed. However, enrolling in the payment plan for some students was not feasible, and to protect themselves from disenrollment, it seemed to be the only option.
“I had to borrow money in order to pay so that my classes weren’t in jeopardy of being dropped,” said Stephanie Gonzales, a fourth year kinesiology major.
Gonzales said she was glad she could stay enrolled in her classes, but other students were unable to pay the out-of-pocket fees right away.
Dulce Aguilera, a fourth year public health major, said she did not have the money to enroll in a payment plan or to pay the outstanding charges all at once.
“During the second deadline, I was disenrolled. I emailed (the Office of Financial Aid) several times telling them it’s my last semester and how I’m waiting on my financial aid,” Aguilera said. “I was stressed because it delayed my graduation. The office emailed back telling me I was disenrolled because I missed the deadline so it was basically on me.”
Flooded with over 700 phone calls everyday, the office’s staff is maintaining constant communication with students through social media and their official website. Weekly updates are made to the office’s FAQ web page, which answers any general questions students may have.
“Our student services increased about 53%,” said Jessica Barco, the office’s director, on an Instagram livestream at the start of the semester.
Barco said that the office has been working hard to get students their awards as soon as possible, while still offering student services through Zoom counseling appointments, phone calls and emails.
“There are staff that are working one to three hours of overtime every single day to meet all of the needs of our very large student body,” Barco said.
With the growing influx of calls and emails received daily, it is likely the office will not get to answer students right away. Email responses are currently estimated to take about one week, but it may vary according to the department’s FAQ.
“I emailed many times and it took weeks before I got a response,” Aguilera said. “It’s very difficult.”
Barco said that the staff wants students to know that they are doing their best to ensure students are protected.
As of Aug. 21, only 300 students were left to be processed out of 30,000, Barco said.
Gonzales said that she was a part of that remaining number and has since received her aid.
“All I had to do at that point was just wait,” Gonzales said.
University representatives were unable to be reached for comment.