Students paying for college computer glitch - Lacking promised financial aid, they scrampble for funds : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Students paying for college computer glitch

Lacking promised financial aid, they scramble for funds

By Sharif Durhams of the Journal Sentinel staff

Last Updated: Oct. 17, 1999

First she borrowed $250 from her school. Later, another $250.

Then $800 from her boyfriend, $1,000 from her father (another $250 from him later) and $700 off a friend's credit card.

Oh, and Sarah Sandell went back for another $300 loan from her school last week. All because she is one of thousands of students at the 13 two-year colleges in the University of Wisconsin system who still haven't received the financial aid checks they have been expecting for about two months.

What was supposed to be a regular software upgrade for the financial aid computers at the two-year UW Colleges has become a frustration for administrators and a financial squeeze for students.

Because of software glitches, students who attended summer school received checks for loans and grants only a few weeks ago - long after classes were over. And about 4,800 students expecting payments for the fall semester only recently learned how much money the school intends to give them - and still don't know exactly when the cash will arrive.

Software makers must update their financial aid programs annually as the U.S. Congress tweaks student loan programs. This year, upgrades to programs used by the UW Colleges included bugs that had computers spitting out the wrong loan totals, said Jan Enstrom, director of financial aid for the UW Colleges.

Further, the software publisher has been slow to correct the problems, Enstrom said.

Financial aid for university students was not affected because the four-year schools use different software.

The colleges have tried to limit the problem. All the colleges have delayed the deadline for tuition payments until Nov. 1, some have lent out school books and others have offered short-term loans.

But the colleges can't control all costs facing students, and financial aid is supposed to cover more than books and tuition. The schools distribute aid for what is described as "modest and adequate" costs of attendance - everything from rent, food and transportation to clothing, child care and computer equipment.

"A pizza is a perfectly legitimate educational expense," said Steve Van Ess, who directs the financial aid program at UW-Madison and has worked in the department for 24 years.

Sandell has combined her multiple loans with more hours working as a waitress to cover her living expenses and pay for classes at UW-Washington County this semester.

"It's not like I'm buying lavish things. I'm just paying bills." she said between work and attending class. Sandell returned to school in January hoping the education would allow her to rise above jobs that always seemed to leave her broke.

"School was supposed to be something rewarding for me," she said. "I don't need the added problems of financial struggles."

Student leaders at the UW colleges say relief efforts for students have not been well organized. Some students who believed financial aid would not be delayed this long paid their tuition. Now they're struggling to pay other expenses.

"The administration said one thing and then another and then another," said Michelle Diggles, head of the United Council, a student organization representing all UW System schools.

At 500-student UW-Baraboo, the student government asked students in a campus election whether they had been affected by the financial aid situation. Of 189 students who responded, 46% listed problems. Some complained their electricity had been cut off; others said they had trouble paying rent.

One student dropped by the student government office saying he had not eaten in two days, said Wendi Muench, head of UW-Baraboo's student government.

"Just in the last week we've lost 10 students to this, and many more of the students on our campus have had to drop to part-time status so they could work more," Muench said.

Muench, a sophomore at the school, has experienced the squeeze herself trying to pay her bills.

"I've had to call the electric company and the phone company and tell them to put it off until the end of the month, and then pray that the money would be there," she said.

Financial aid officers are making final tests on parts of the program that deal with cutting checks, and hope they can start distributing money soon. But, depending on the kind of loan a student is getting, it could take several weeks to get the checks in the mail.

"The big challenge right now is getting the money out to students," UW Colleges Chancellor William Messner said. "I hope we're at the tail end of this."

And they could be at the tail end of dealing with the buggy software. The UW System, which governs the 13 UW Colleges and the 13 four-year schools, has purchased a license to use a program that should avoid those problems. PeopleSoft organizes most of a university's student files, including those for financial aid.

For now, the only school using the program is UW-Madison, but it could be employed across the state. After a few early problems, the program has been a boon for UW-Madison, which installed it this year. It allows financial aid officers to do things like have a financial aid refund deposited directly into a student's checking account.

Still, while UW-Madison has experienced few problems with PeopleSoft, other universities have encountered some troubling glitches. And students dealing with the UW Colleges situation this fall don't want a repeat performance.

"My fear is that we're going to run into another situation like this in another three years," Muench said.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Oct. 18, 1999.

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) Copyright 1999, Milwaukee Journal Senti

-- Homer Beanfang (, October 18, 1999


My sons at Cal Poly and he told me they screwed up his finances. Don't know what the problem was/is.

-- Mark Hillyard (, October 19, 1999.

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