Students travelling abroad expected stress this semester, but not from their financial aid.
The impacts of delayed loan, grant and scholarship disbursements this fall are reaching far beyond Pullman, said Christine Oakley, the director of global learning for the Office of International Programs.
“We have had a few calls that say ‘I expected funding by now, I’ve been trying to figure this out and haven’t been able to talk to anyone in (the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships)',” Oakley said.
She said the International Learning staff has worked closely with the financial aid office to accommodate travelling students in the most critical situations, but most have the same two-week distribution timeline as those attending the Pullman campus. Some outside WSU's study abroad program have worked with students to try to delay expenses or find supplemental funding.
“We have had some providers who are for-profit organizations, and the concerns that have been expressed by the vast majority of them is, ‘What’s going on?” Oakley said.
Libby Walker, the Honors College dean, said the college and faculty-led programs have not been impacted by the financial aid situation yet. The programs take place during the summer, and payment deadlines for students are in February.
“Students who plan to study abroad this fall are already gone,” Walker said. “Students who plan to be gone in the spring still have time to straighten out their finances.”
International Programs sends about 700 students abroad each year, Oakley said. Roughly 400 of those students plan through third-party providers.
The financial uncertainty has been difficult for many of them, she said.
“You can’t just go to the ATM,"she said."You can’t just call whatever resources you think you might have available to you and say ‘help me out here.’”
The International Learning staff tries to guarantee the timeliness of financial aid support for study abroad programs, but ultimately the students have the responsibility to make payments. Between the Zzusis and financial aid processing backlog and the late establishment of tuition costs in May, this semester has proved a challenge for many.
“That frustration with the system gets amplified twice when it has to do with your money and whether or not you can pay rent,” Oakley said. “Then, you can imagine how amplified it is if you’re going to leave the country and you need to pay for whatever it is and you don’t know how you’re going to do that. Suddenly there’s this glitch in the plan because the money isn’t in your pocket.”
Brando Stewart, a senior international business major, said he received his financial aid a week before he left on Sunday to study in Sweden, but obtaining the funds wasn’t easy.
“I had to turn in the same document a couple times, or they would tell me I didn’t need that document, then turn around and mail me something saying that I needed to turn it in,” Stewart said.
He said the change that held up his funds was simple and should not have taken as long as it did.
“It was very stressful dealing with that type of incident, because I would have had no way to contact (the financial aid office) while I was at Uppsala in Sweden,” Stewart said. “I mean, (the office) does have an email, but they never email back.”
While dealing with his paperwork, Stewart said he contacted the office about four times and never heard back.
Philip Pitts, a junior computer science and Chinese major, said he received enough funding to travel before he left, but is aware of the problems occurring in Pullman. For Pitts, the majority of his funding comes from an outside scholarship.
“I do know the system is causing some large problems in some of our domestic branches such as Bremerton (Olympic College) and Everett,” Pitts said. “I know that we have lost potential new students at some of these branches as a result of problems with the system.”
As far as Oakley knows, no students have returned from abroad because of financial aid problems. However, students concerned about their delayed aid have deferred their programs until another semester.
Students who chose to defer have had to rework their schedules and plans so they can take classes in Pullman, Oakley said. Unfortunately, certain classes are only offered in the spring and sometimes degree requirement classes fill up, she said.
With students in various stages of studying abroad, like those who are about to leave and those who have already left, the global learning office has relied on their strong relationship with financial aid staff.
“We are definitely in their radar,” Oakley said. “They know the financial aid adjustments that need to be made for those going abroad.”