When financial aid fails

Puglisi Hall
Rachel Cardwell/THE REVIEW
Music Education major struggles with tuition after financial aid problems

BY
Associate News Editor

Gustavo Huerta, the first in his family to attend college, knew he would need help affording his tuition. So when he was offered $12,000 in financial aid from the university, the most from any school he applied to, he made the decision to attend.

Huerta, a freshman music education major with a concentration in clarinet, is from New Jersey. Out-of-state students face a bill around $45,000 a year to attend the university. The $12,000 he was offered helped ease his financial burden, but he knew he would still need help with payments.

“I knew how much I was going to owe, but they had told me there were payment plans,” Huerta said.

According to Nathan Franklin, student services manager for Student Financial Services, for non-Delawareans the school awards both merit and need-based grants at the point of admission. The university will work with students on payment plans to give them additional time to identify and come up with resources, Franklin said.

“While full payment is due prior to the start of the term, we have an installment plan allowing families to spread out their contributions over four months each term, for a $50/term installment fee,” he said. “Students who still have balances after those four months may still be given additional time to pay.”

When the first tuition payment came, it was too much, Huerta said. When he called to inquire about the bill, the school confirmed he could stretch out his payments, yet the bill stayed the same.

“I call back again and I’m like, ‘I don’t understand,’” Huerta said. “They said to just put in any amount you can and it will fix itself later on.”

Huerta’s mother, wary of not having anything in writing, refused to pay until there was written proof of his extended payment plan. Huerta went to his Student Support Services program (SSSP) mentor, who wished not to be named, to share his financial issues. He told his mentor he was currently paying around $32,000 a year.

She said, “That’s ridiculous, you’re supposed to get at least a little bit more,” Huerta said. She told him they would definitely try to bring it down, he said.

Huerta and his mentor went back and forth with financial aid with no results until the end of November. At that point, his mentor contacted Franklin to explain Huerta’s situation. Franklin was able to reduce the tuition costs to $12,000 total a year.

Despite the good news, there was a problem. While this was being worked out, Huerta had not yet made any tuition payments, given his mother’s concerns. The university adjusted his tuition costs, but now expected Huerta to pay all $6,000 for the first semester at once.

“I couldn’t even afford the $3-4,000 you were asking before, I can’t afford that,” Huerta said.

Huerta asked if the payments could be spread out. The school said no.

“Me and my mentor, we were like, ‘we went through all that trouble to bring it down and this is what you’re doing?’” he said. “And they’re like ‘yeah, sorry.’”

Although the university will offer to spread out a student’s payments, they do not allow registration for a subsequent term until the student is financially caught up on their student accounts, since registering will only add money to their account, Franklin said. Huerta was given three options. Pay the $6,000 in full, take a leave of absence or get kicked out of the university.

“So I said, ‘okay, I’m going to take the leave of absence and hope I can get all of this money together by next semester,’” he said.

Huerta was able to stay at the university during winter session, working a job in Residential Life that his mentor secured him as a way to try and earn the missing money. Huerta also started a GoFundMe page on Feb. 13 to raise additional money. Some of the donations included comments like “I really hope you get this bro” and “good luck, I’m sure everything will work out.” It has raised $810 to date.

“Most of my music major friends all helped me, they all posted on their Facebooks,” Huerta said. “At least some people tried to care.”

When winter session ended, Huerta had not secured the necessary funds to pay off his last semester’s tuition. On Feb. 19, he was forced to officially declare his leave of absence. About an hour after doing so, he was told he had 48 hours to move out of Caesar Rodney dorms, he said. He is also being billed for the whole spring semester’s rooming fee, since he left after spring check-in.

Huerta also became ineligible for his work-study award, a form of financial aid which provides part-time jobs for students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses.

Huerta crashed with a friend for two weeks until he found a place to stay, deciding he was going to live in an off-campus apartment and work instead of return home. He now holds jobs with Parking Services and Peace A Pizza, saving what he can for his tuition.

Huerta’s family no longer wants him to attend the university; they are too afraid the school will add onto his tuition in the future. However, because of Huerta’s unpaid tuition, it makes his ability to drop out or transfer to other schools much more difficult. Other schools, if they saw Huerta’s debt with the university, wouldn’t accept him to transfer, he said.

“So technically it’s either here or nowhere at this point,” Huerta said. “That’s what’s kind of scaring me.”

Running out of options, Huerta is now considering joining the military. His professors have told him there are bands in the military that, if he joined them, he would receive the same benefits as if he’s serving for them.

During his leave of absence, Huerta’s professors are helping him keep up his instrumental practice. Some of his professors are letting Huerta take classes during his absence like clarinet rep class and some of the ensembles offered, he said. Huerta’s private instructor is also continuing to give him private clarinet lessons for a reduced rate.

Because Huerta’s leave of absence is causing him to stay longer, the head of the music department offered Huerta some scholarship money for his final year.

“They’re trying so much to help me not give up the music,” Huerta said. “It’s amazing to me that professors care, but the school itself is like, no.”

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