By BRIANNA HERNANDEZ
Like many Pima Community College students, Mathew Merriman relies on the PCC financial aid department to provide reassurance and assistance for his financial aid disbursement.
Merriman had ongoing issues with his financial aid since January. The problems were resolved in late March.
He began contacting the PCC financial aid department in January to request help because he was worried about receiving his money.
“I emailed them directly through their ‘Contact Us’ forum,” he said. “Then eventually, when I wasn’t getting answers, I’d call directly.”
Despite having open communication with the department via emails and phone calls, Merriman felt flustered and confused.
“It’s almost like I’d leave the phone thinking it was resolved and then something else would change.” He said. “I wouldn’t get any type of notification, so basically I’d start the process all over again.”
Merriman was later told that part of his problem stemmed from charges on his account from the previous semester, which led to his aid being revoked. He had not previously been informed about the problem.
“It was like pulling teeth to figure that out because I couldn’t get through to anyone, or no one knew what was wrong,” he said.
Merriman was reassured that his issue was nearly resolved, but he had doubts. “It’s a manual process, so basically it’s in their hands whether or not it gets done,” he said.
He received the news he had been waiting for on March 27.
“I just checked MyPima, and it showed the funds had been disbursed,” he said.
Merriman called the resolution “very relieving,” noting “I’m happy that they kept up with their end.”
If Merriman’s aid hadn’t been disbursed, he would have been responsible for paying $1,244 in tuition.
PCC Financial Aid Coordinator Edgardo Cornejo said financial aid issues must often be treated on a case-by-case basis.
Many times, the information may not relate to the financial aid department, Cornejo said. Other times, some pieces of information may be left out, which makes it hard for department employees to assist students.
“I would say that the majority of the cases, it could potentially be a communication issue,” Cornejo said.
“I’m not putting the blame on the student nor on us,” he said. “Sometimes a student may think that they are providing us with everything or we aren’t capturing everything the student is trying to provide.”
Both Cornejo and Melissa Moser, PCC executive director of financial aid, said PCC staffers have vastly improved the methods they use to relay and communicate financial aid information to students.
“Without having the specifics regarding the student, the processes that we have in place do notify the student of all issues with their financial aid,” Moser said.
Moser said she is unaware of any communication issues with regard to financial aid.
“All students receive emails and alerts in MyPima regarding their financial aid,” she said. “The student may not have been checking their Pima email address; this is the official email communication that the college uses for financial aid.”
The methods in which information is communicated has expanded greatly, according to Cornejo
“I know for a fact that we have been making sure that we stay in communication in various ways with all our students, either sending them messages through their MyPima account or to their Pima emails,” he said.
In other cases, the department will give students a call or send notifications through their personal email, he added.
Moser said she personally offered her assistance to Merriman.
As part of the effort to continue to improve the methods in which financial aid information is relayed, the department has updated the icons that students see in MyPima regarding their aid status.
For example, a green check mark indicates that the financial aid requirement is satisfied. A purple thumbs-up represents recommended action a student should take.
Moser said financial aid workshops and presentations are in the planning stages. The workshops will focus on helping students understand the processes and requirements on financial aid.
“I am hopeful that in Fall 2017, we can convene a focus group of students to review the financial aid website and emails, and offer suggestions as to what this office can do to facilitate understanding and completion of the financial aid application,” Moser said.
Despite the communication efforts noted by both financial aid staffers, Merriman said Pima must work on improving how they communicate financial aid changes.
“The only real complaint is that there is no communication when changes are made, charges are posted, funds are disbursed, etcetera,” he said. “All I’m asking is just an email.”
The experience left Merriman with a sour taste in his mouth.
“The effect it had was that I definitely lost a lot of respect for Pima,” he said.
“When you’re dealing with people’s school money, you should be running a tighter ship,” he added. “There are definitely a lot of employees in the financial aid department who are very resourceful and helpful. They just need to improve.”