State budget cuts add to financial aid woes

As the semester kicks off there is one thing we can all relate to: the stress that comes from paying for the classes we just started taking. I know when my tuition bill was e-mailed to me this summer, my heart skipped a beat, and not in a good way.

Every winter we fill out those annoying financial aid forms and cross our fingers that the packages we get are enough to get us through the next year of classes. But what if it’s not? What if some of that money is taken away?

Both last year and this year, I was awarded a scholarship/grant/loan combo to pay for tuition. And both years I was awarded the Michigan Competitive Scholarship. It wasn’t my biggest scholarship, but every dollar helps and I wasn’t about to turn away free money.

However, this past May I received an e-mail from the state saying that the Competitive Scholarship had been cut from the state budget and was replaced by the Michigan College Access Grant. To make matters worse, this new grant was less money and was not going to be available to as many students as before. Great!!! (Insert sarcastic tone here.)

After that lovely note from the state, I quickly called the financial aid office to ask if there was something I should do, some form I should fill out or someone I could harass to keep myself in the running for this new grant. They said there wouldn’t be any decisions made until the budget was finalized and to just wait to here from someone. Two seconds in a room with me and you’d know that patience is a virtue, but not my virtue.

So I anxiously sat on my hands, checked my e-mail on a daily basis and left messages with officials waiting to here from someone, anyone, about this grant money. When my tuition bill came in August, I called the financial aid office again to see if the grant was included in my package. It wasn’t. They gave me a number for a guy who directed me to another person who transferred me to another state office only to learn that the offices were closed for a mandatory “day off” and to try again Monday. Good grief!
After two more e-mails I finally got a response from the Office of Scholarships and Grants.

“Thank you for contacting our office. Since the Michigan legislature has not made a decision regarding the 2009-10 budget for the current programs, we are unable to give out any award information at this time.
“If you filed your FAFSA by 03/01/09, made any corrections necessary, and listed Eastern Michigan University as #1 in FAFSA step 6, you have done all that you can in preparation for the Michigan Competitive Scholarship.”

The e-mail went on to direct me to a state website where I learned about the state budget and how these proposed new grants were streamlining old programs to help ease the state burden. The fate of the grant and my chances for receiving money did not fill me with any hope for a good outcome. Since then my remaining financial aid package paid for this semester’s tuition. The Michigan College Access Grant was not listed as a contributor.

While the original Competitive Scholarship was a nice surprise last year, I have to go on record as saying that the state is a tease. College students covet their dollars and count their quarters. It’s not very nice to offer money just to change your mind four months later.

Since I have run out of people to call or annoy, I am waving the white flag and surrendering on this particular issue. I guess this means that the state can giveth and the state can taketh away.

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