Politics delays financial aid for Clark College students

School officials had to wait on Congress, state Legislature

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



Did you know?

Clark College distributes about $60 million in financial aid annually.

The college received 6,397 financial aid applications for the 2013-14 school year. That’s an increase of 14.7 percent over the 2012-13 academic year.

The federal government doubled the interest rate on new Stafford student loans from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent beginning July 1.

On the Web

Learn more about financial aid at Clark College.

On the first day of summer quarter at Clark College, the line of students waiting to enter the financial aid office snaked out the door at 3:30 p.m. By 4 p.m., the line was even longer, stretching a good 15 feet out the door.

For some, the news at the front of the line wasn't good. Their financial aid had been delayed by both the Washington Legislature and Congress.

Michelle Miro, 27, a Washougal student in the nursing program, applied before the May 1 deadline for summer quarter. This is the first time in nine quarters that she didn't receive her aid in a timely manner.

"I had to borrow $263 from my little sister to buy my books," Miro said.

It was the first day of college for Cheyenne Jackson, 18, of Vancouver. Her tuition was paid, but she didn't have the $200 to buy books for her four classes.

Shannon Fogle, 42, of Washougal, is starting her fourth quarter in the dental hygiene assistant program. She'd just paid $120 to purchase books for her two classes.

"I had to borrow the money from my parents," Fogle said. "Never had to do that before. It's a last resort. They're on a fixed budget, too. Next time, I'll put money aside for my books," she said.

"We know our students need their funds to start school. But boy, the politics sure got in the way this year," Karen Driscoll, the school's director of financial aid, said. "There's always some glitches, but this year, we ran into all the glitches."

Driscoll has not seen this many delays at both the federal and state level in her 28-year career.

"It's a perfect storm," she said.

The state Legislature didn't submit the consensus budget until June 29, at the end of its second special session. Driscoll's office had to wait for the budget to learn whether the Legislature was going to increase tuition. State grants are based on the tuition amount, she said. Tuition didn't increase.

Driscoll's office also had to develop a contingency plan in case state legislators failed to pass a budget.

'We had to scramble'

The bigger delay was caused by the federal government, which didn't make a decision about the rate on student loan fees until June 27, Driscoll said. The fee last quarter was 1 percent on the total amount borrowed. The new fee beginning July 1 is 1.051 percent. When students apply for loans, colleges are required to certify loans. Driscoll's office couldn't begin certifying loans until July 1, when the federal government released how much it was going to charge in fees.

"We had to scramble to get things in order," Driscoll said.

For students who turned in all required paperwork but missed the May 1 aid application deadline for summer quarter, the financial aid office disbursed Pell grant money, which covered tuition and books for the majority of the students who received the grants. Federal Pell grants are available only to low-income students and do not have to be repaid.

"We'll go back and re-evaluate their eligibility for additional grant aid and loans," Driscoll said.

Driscoll said the office "held off awarding some students until we were sure of our state funds."

Her office started disbursing financial aid awards for summer quarter on July 5.

"It's been some long 11-hour days for our people so we can serve our students," Driscoll said. "We hope to be caught up by the end of this week on our loans."

Students who plan to attend Clark College in the fall and who need financial aid should apply now, Driscoll said.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools;</a>; susan.parrish@columbian.com