The Financial Aid Office: Understaffed and Inefficient

For the fall 2016 quarter at UC Irvine, 98,000 applications were received for just 6,000 available spots in the Class of 2020. The number of applications increased by a whopping 10 percent compared to the previous year, meaning UC Irvine had the greatest increase of applications in the entire UC system.

That’s wonderful and all, but the influx of new students every year creates great stress on the understaffed financial aid office.

A few weeks before this year’s fall quarter fee deadline, I went to Facebook and noticed several posts about the financial aid office; in particular, the absurdly large wait time to get in touch via phone call. I’ve heard and read the horror stories from other students, ranging from the fresh-faced first years to the weathered third and fourth years. I’ve heard of students who didn’t get payments in on time, and as a consequence, had all of their classes dropped. Unfortunately for them, their spots were given to the eager students on the waitlist.

Now as an incoming first year, I was extremely worried by this. Getting together the perfect schedule during SPOP was a struggle. By the time I got there, many classes were full and brimming with students on the waitlist. The only comfort I found was that I was guaranteed the basic classes in my major. Other than that, I was left the crumbs of the Cornucopia of the UCI WebReg Hunger Games. I made the most with what I could and found classes that seemed interesting. The very idea of getting kicked out shook me to my core.

So what if I don’t get my classes back after I get dropped? It’s not like I’m paying for it, right?

Wrong. College is a place to explore subjects and find your passion. By getting kicked out of classes because my aid doesn’t go through, my academic potential is wasted. I won’t be as inspired to go to my second choice classes and put in the most effort possible to succeed.

Over the summer, I made sure to get all my forms into the Financial Aid Office. However, a week before the deadline, my aid still wasn’t disbursed. There was a hold placed on my financial aid because of a missing document, even though I had already handed it in. I decided to go back to get it fixed, but couldn’t. I failed to account for the line that stretched out of the office and I had to leave before I could speak with someone. On the bright side, the person behind me must have felt better.

The next day, I decided it’d be better to just call. I set aside an hour, thinking service over phone would be quicker and the wait time wouldn’t possibly be that long. Boy, was I wrong. The financial aid office may as well have been the DMV. The automated message greeted me and directed me to the menu. After listening all the way through, I hit 0. Busy line. I tried again. No luck. The minutes crept by me as I hit 0. 30 minutes later, I was getting upset. An hour later, I was in disbelief. At an hour and a half, I knew the automated voice message would continue to haunt me in my nightmares that night. When I finally got everything sorted out, a heavy burden was lifted off my back when I read my Zotbill: “Fall Registration Fees: PAID.”

The financial aid office is understaffed. There are simply too many students at our school to be juggled by a few dozen people at most. A student like me shouldn’t have to worry about his aid getting processed in time as long as he/she has done everything right. I came to college excited to learn and have novel experiences, not waste hours of my day waiting in line or on hold to get the help I need. Ultimately, how UCI handles the issue speaks to its commitment to the welfare of its students. Students have enough on their plate already; let us focus on what really matters — our education.

 

Eashan Kotha is a first year Biological Sciences major. He can be reached at ekotha@uci.edu