Who's Responsible for Financial Aid Woes at H-T?
Students frustrated by delayed aid
On Feb. 9, Huston-Tillotson University students* rallied together to protest what they feel is a lack of communication by university administration regarding the school's financial aid policies, and a possible mismanagement of financial aid and scholarship money. H-T student Jasmine "Bobbie" Oliver told the Chronicle, "There are a lot of things that are not transparent at Huston-Tillotson and we are addressing that today."
The students first became concerned when the distribution of several students' financial aid checks was delayed for more than a month. Although H-T has said the checks are being disbursed, many students are still waiting, more than a month after the protest. Others, after being awarded grants and loans to cover tuition, were told they were over-awarded in financial aid and would have to return the money. Students had used the money to purchase computers, books, school supplies, and to pay for housing. Multiple students have received eviction notices for failure to pay rent.
Within a few weeks of the protest, Financial Aid Director Antonio Holloway was abruptly replaced by Interim Director Sheila Brown. As the spring semester continues, many students have yet to purchase necessary supplies, including textbooks. University professors are being understanding and compensating by making copies of certain chapters, locating PDF versions online, and placing books on reserve in the library until students can obtain their own books.
H-T environmental group Green Is the New Black took first place at the Ford Foundation HBCU Community Challenge in 2013, winning $75,000, with $50,000 going toward scholarships. Recently, the Chronicle reported that "the funds went to scholarships, a community development program with the nearby Blackshear Elementary School, and the Dumpster Project." (See "Professor Dumpster Wanted a Dialogue - He Got One," March 11.) According to a former GITNB member, $8,000 was to be awarded to each team member toward tuition, but six months after the money was received members were told that there was a miscommunication and that they would not receive the money directly. Instead, the $8,000 would be applied toward their student loans.
Dumpster Project Director Amanda Masino told the Chronicle, "A common misunderstanding about scholarships is that students receive funds directly since scholarships are merit-based and not awarded based on financial need." The Ford contest did outline that the scholarship money would not be awarded directly to students, but would go through the aid process at H-T. While the students may be partially responsible for the misunderstanding, it does show a lack of communication.
Clarity about what exactly has caused financial aid to become such a point of contention at H-T has been elusive. H-T Vice President Valerie Hill said, "There are certain federal regulations we have to abide by, and then there are university regulations." Director of University Relations Linda Jackson responded to the Chronicle's inquiry with the statement, "Many of the issues are around students' understanding of the financial aid award process, their financial aid, and federal guidelines. Financial aid is divided into semesters in order to cover the cost of education. Students might mistakenly think that their financial aid is loaded into one semester, which is not the case. Student accounts are checked regularly to ensure policy compliance with account adjustments as needed. We cannot speak about individual student accounts due to privacy issues."
*Tashanna Turner is currently a student at Huston-Tillotson University.