August 30, 2010/Detroit Free Press
By Lori Higgins
About half of the 250 students on the Ferris State University campus last week for student orientation had needs more pressing than just signing up for classes: They were trying to figure out how to pay for those classes.
Similar scenes have been unfolding in financial-aid offices at colleges and universities across Michigan as students, for reasons that range from procrastination to a sudden drop in income, find themselves searching for what may seem like a miracle.
Most students are discovering a sliver of hope. Financial-aid experts say they can still apply for some federal loans and grants. Some scholarship money also may be available.
"It's definitely not too late," said Rob Wirt, president of the Michigan Student Financial Aid Association and director of financial aid at Ferris State, where classes are scheduled to begin today.
Students scrambling to pay for tuition
Nijal Journey usually has his financial-aid situation squared away well before the academic year begins at Wayne State University. But this year, with just weeks to go before the start of classes, he found himself in the financial-aid office looking for a way to pay his college bills.
"It was definitely a concern. ... If I didn't get that taken care of, I wouldn't have been able to start," said Journey, 27, of Detroit, a senior secondary education major.
The financial-aid staff at Wayne State helped Journey find enough scholarships and loans that he could use not only to pay off the $1,900 he owed for two summer classes he took this year -- a balance that would have prevented him from registering if it went unpaid -- but also to pay for classes that begin Wednesday.
Financial-aid directors said last-minute problems with paying tuition keep their offices bustling this time of year.
Across Michigan, most universities will begin classes soon; some have already started. "We have some last-minute people. A lot of times, it's the students and parents that didn't realize how long it takes to do some of this stuff," said Rob Wirt, director of financial aid at Ferris State University, where classes are scheduled to begin today.
The good news is that even though the deadline to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is June 30, and most colleges recommend that students file months earlier, students can still file an application and likely receive federal loans or the need-based Pell Grant, which has a maximum award of $5,500 this year. But it may be too late for the federal work-study program, which provides money for tuition in exchange for working part-time campus jobs. "Most schools have awarded those," said Al Hermsen, director of financial aid at Wayne State.
"We simply have more students who want to work than we have funds from the federal government," said Wirt, who tells students to check back in October to see whether any work-study funds have been freed up by students who've opted out of the program.
The financial-aid experts said it's important for stressed-out students to know that if their, or their parent's, financial situation has changed because of a job loss since they filed an application for financial aid, there is still time to make adjustments that could help them pay for school.
Schools generally require such students to file a special consideration appeal "to have us look at what your real financial health is," Wirt said. "We can make adjustments if appropriate."
Whether students file early or at the last minute, they'll find most universities have increased the amount of financial aid available, largely because of increased need and the state's economy. That's important, given that families are increasingly relying on financial aid to pay for college, said Mark Delorey, director of financial aid at Western Michigan University.
Contact LORI HIGGINS: 313-222-6651 or firstname.lastname@example.org