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Financial aid changes in effect this fall

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Financial aid disbursement at Grand Rapids Community College has undergone a change this year that has students receiving half of their aid money during the fourth week of the semester and the rest after two thirds of their courses are completed.

“The federal government has stepped up the pressure on colleges with regards to financial aid,” said Ken Fridsma, Interim Director of Financial Aid. “That is one of the main reasons the community college is moving to multiple disbursements this semester.”

Fridsma says that a lot of the pressure comes from Congress setting up new rules out of fear that students may be abusing federal funding. He views it as a hot button issue that Congress will bring up. However, he feels that a lot of their rules can be seen as outdated.

“Most students come here to get an education, not to try and rip the government off,” Fridsma said.

Another reason the financial aid office has altered the way money is being distributed is in an effort to help students avoid getting into debt.

Fridsma explained that they are trying to avoid billing students. Past years, the students would get a lump sum of their aid at the beginning of the semester; if they didn’t complete their classes fully, they would have to repay that money. Under the new system, if students change their enrollment statuses, they will receive a prorated amount of the rest of their aid money, or if they drop out, they will have less money to owe to the school.

“Things happen that may cause students to change their status, like getting a new job or personal changes,” Fridsma said. “For most people, money burns a hole in their pocket. It can be hard not to spend that money right away and then not be prepared if your situation changes.”

The financial aid office has not received a lot of negative feedback regarding any of the changes. The main goal is to make sure students are aware of what is going on.

“I think it’s better than it was. It will keep kids from dropping,” said sophomore Anthony Johnson Jr. “It seemed like last year we got it two weeks into the semester and students stopped showing up.”

“I think it’s more difficult now,” said freshman Jade Wallace. “It’s easier to plan out your whole year when you have your money all set.”

Wallace said she faced difficulties in coming up with the money out of pocket, and the delays can make life a little chaotic for her. At the same time, she said she recognizes that the new system will help students who had difficulty managing lump sum disbursements.

Grand Rapids Community College’s default rate is 14 percent. The default rate is the rate of students at the college who default on their student loans. If the college rate reaches 30 percent the federal government can take several actions, including fining the school or even taking away the eligibility to receive aid.

“It can be difficult in financial aid. The rules change every year,” Fridma said. “With the elections this fall, I’m pretty sure that there will be new regulations for us to have to follow next year.”

Fridsma has temporarily taken over the position as financial aid director until a permanent replacement can be found.  He came from Grand Valley State University with 40 years of experience.

He is only planning to be at GRCC for six more months, and he hopes to help students better understand financial aid and avoid debt. He would like to enact a couple of financial literacy programs at GRCC and be able to help students who are having issues with debt.

 

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