Although she left Ithaca College at the end of the fall 2021 semester because of her financial situation, former sophomore Gianny Guzman owes the college more than $40,000. Guzman can’t afford to pay it in cash and can’t get a loan approved to cover it, which lands Guzman in a bind with monthly late fees. Guzman joins other students in stressful financial situations criticizing the college’s Office of Student Financial Services (SFS).
“I actually spoke with some people in the office who literally said they don’t care how they get the money, but they need the money,” Guzman said. “My friends and I used to make jokes about how they don’t care what we should do with ourselves or our situation as long as they get their money.”
However, Shana Gore, executive director of student financial services, said SFS plans to make reforms and expand its capabilities to better help students solve their financial problems.
This includes the office’s interest in creating elective courses that would help increase students’ financial literacy. While onerous loans are endemic to the US student loan system and bury college students in debtfinancial literacy is an important method for navigating the system. Studies show that American students perform below expectations on financial literacy tests.
When Guzman was in college, she was a first-generation student. Because her parents don’t speak English, Guzman was left in the dark and had to make all of her financial decisions on her own. Since Guzman is no longer a student, she will have to start repaying her federal loans when the federal pause on student loan repayments resumes on May 1. However, Guzman’s inability to secure loans to cover her fall semester caused her to run up $200 a month behind. fresh after multiple deadlines Came and went. One of her biggest issues was the mixed messaging she thinks SFS gives.
“Everything I learned about financial aid I learned on my own,” Guzman said. “It was really annoying because depending on who you talk to at Student Financial Services, they give you a different answer.”
Like Guzman, senior Jade Greer said one of his biggest issues with SFS was poor communication. Greer said that shortly before her freshman year, SFS told her she couldn’t come to college until a problem with her family’s taxes was resolved. Tax returns are a important part of the SFS process. While the situation was eventually resolved, Greer said the situation caused him significant stress.
“It was like two weeks before school and I had a major panic attack,” Greer said. “I just freaked out. … IIt was just a really long process and I was emailing four different people in Student Financial Services. They all told me different things about what to do. … They could have told me that in May or June, not August.
Gore said by email that SFS is looking to improve communication and has taken several steps to streamline its process. These measures include more transparent and personalized financial assistance programs and the use of electronic forms. Gore also said that SFS will also eliminate the College Scholarship Service Profile, which would save families some fees.
gore sent Ithaca the results of several surveys that are emailed to students after SFS appointments. The results indicate generally positive approval of SFS services, and Gore said she follows up on all students who submit negative responses. However, 49 students responded to the survey.
“We are committed to continuous improvement of SFS services,” Gore said. “All SFS team members participate in weekly training to stay current with federal, state, and institutional regulations and policies. We also look for opportunities to get student feedback… I follow up with any student who indicates a negative or neutral response, to better understand their situation and learn how we could have better met the needs of the student.
SFS helps students secure federal and private loans. Many private student loans must be co-signed, which means the student needs someone – usually a parent or guardian – to co-sign the loan in the event of default. Since Guzman’s parents do not have U.S. citizenship, they cannot co-sign Guzman’s loans, which made it harder for Guzman to pay for his education. Guzman’s father has no credit and his mother does not have a social security number. As Guzman is only 20 years old, his credit rating is low. Eventually, Guzman found a way to take out private loans, which are riskier and often harder to repay.
“I was constantly calling (SFS) to find out what to do, how to fill things in, and I was getting different responses from everyone,” Guzman said. “It has become a routine to do the same thing, the same back–and–each semester.
In the lending industry, it is extremely difficult for borrowers with low credit ratings to obtain higher quality loans. In addition, private loan companies – such as those recommended to students on the college’s SFS website — engage in predatory lending and risky underwriting it is often towards borrowers with lower credit scores.
Gore said the college is working on a partnership with ElmSelect, an online service that provides a neutral comparison of private student loans. Gore said it was difficult to create a list of all the best loan options for students because the quality of the loan can vary depending on the needs of the student.
“It’s hard for us to put out a list and say, ‘These are the best lenders for Ithaca College students.‘ because of so many individual circumstances,” Gore said. “In a month or two, you can get into Ithaca College when you go to ElmSelect. … It will offer filtering and sorting tools based on what the student and his family may be looking for.
Freshman Zac Sultzer said that in handling his scholarships and financial statements, SFS was timely and helpful in answering his questions.
“They’re effective,” Sultzer said. “They always managed to work things out. I remember one time I got a scholarship and it was supposed to go up [on my financial statement], so I had to go and say, “Hey, I got this scholarship,” and they quickly sorted it out. I think they always respond in a reasonable time.
A key part of the student loan process that SFS helps to is the expected family contribution (ECC), which is the combination of the student’s contribution to tuition and the parents’ contribution to tuition. Calculating a student’s EFC is a complicated process that requires looking at a family’s taxable and untaxed income as well as its strengths.
Freshman Noah Rosenzweig said that before he came to college, his EFC was too high for him to pay and as a result, SFS was unable to help pay his fees. tuition fees.
“Most of my experiences [with SFS] were before I came to Ithaca,” Rosenzweig said. “I was trying to talk to them about financial aid and financial needs. … In short, I couldn’t get the financial help I needed. … Student Financial Services said, ‘Sorry, we can’t give you the help you’re asking for. It’s because of your taxes. …and so I kept talking to them but basically got the same response.
While repairing CFEs and helping a family with their taxes is beyond SFS’s control, Rosenzweig said he believes SFS can improve by looking at who’s behind the tuition payments. . Rosenzweig thinks this would allow the college to understand which students are paying out of pocket. and who receive help from their families.
“I think that would be a bit more helpful,” Rosenzweig said. “Some students…get help from mom and dad or grandpa and grandma. There are also students who pay themselves to work every summer, every break and who work to the bone.
Editor’s note: Gianny Guzman was the opinion editor for Ithaca.
Staff writer Joshua Pantano contributed reporting.