SGA holds Town Hall forum with Student Accounting and Financial Aid

Date: 
Fri, 2017/09/08
By: 
Ethan Castro

In addition to translating student concerns into actionable projects, the Illinois Tech Student Government Association (SGA) also exists to connect the student body to various campus departments. One such way it accomplishes this directive is through a recurring event, known as the Town Hall. An informal question-and-answer session, Town Hall forums give students a direct opportunity to meet and ask questions of various Illinois Tech administrative offices. The first Town Hall of the semester was held on Wednesday, August 30 during the student lunch hour (12:45 p.m. - 1:45 p.m.) in the MTCC Ballroom with three representatives each from the Office of Financial Aid (Assistant Directors Melissa Hayne Loretto and Leticia Moreno and Director Elizabeth Wahlstrom Helgren) and the office of Student Accounting (Director Tamara Posley). This event was planned and organized by SGA's Events Committee and moderated by Senator Olivia Kochanek.

The forum began with the two offices overviewing their availabilities and core differences. The Office of Financial Aid is located on the on second floor of Perlstein Hall during regular business hours (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), Monday through Friday. The Office of Financial Aid can be reached via email at finaid@iit.edu or via phone at 312-567-7219.

Student Accounting is located at 3424 South State Street (a building colloquially known as “Tech North”). This office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every weekday. This office can be reached by email at sa@iit.edu or by phone at 312-567-3794.

Following a prompt by an audience question, the two offices then went about explaining their differences from each other. In short, the Office of Financial Aid processes student aid, merit scholarships, financial need scholarships, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). On the other end of the spectrum, Student Accounting deals with the actual billing of student tuition, the management of student accounts, and tuition refunds.

Moderator Kochanek then provided a pre-submitted audience question asking for an inquiry into how the requirements for need-based financial aid are determined and allocated. The answer was that every student has a calculated need and their expected family contribution. These are then used to determine the total amount that Financial Aid is able to offer to students, including a mix of merit-based scholarships, need-based scholarships, and other forms of federal aid (such as Stafford loans, Perkins loans, and Federal Work-Study). The Office of Financial Aid will always try to offer the maximum amount of aid to all students.

The next audience question regarded a personal scenario in which a student filled out the FAFSA and was asked for the previous year’s personal tax information, but then one parent underwent a major career change that radically changed the nature of family income. The panel’s response was that there is an online form through the Office of Financial Aid to begin an appeal process for recalculating the estimated family income and more properly determine eligibility for aid.

Another audience question concerned the presence of the student activity fee and student service fee on tuition statements. This fee is the origin of the Student Activity Fund, a pool of money distributed to student organizations for their events and other programs. Meanwhile, the student service fee is used to finance the various services available for students on campus, such as the Galvin Library, Keating Sports Center, and Illinois Tech Athletics. If any of these fees may appear to show up twice in a student’s bill, it is simply due to an issue with fluctuations between full-time and part-time status. The individual fees that show up sum up to the singular total fee.

A co-terminal student in the audience asked about the processing of financial aid for such students, which is a somewhat more complicated process due to the combination of undergraduate and graduate courses that co-terminal students take. As a result of this, the Office of Financial Aid has to correlate the student’s aid package with individual requirements, which means that financial aid for co-terminal students disburses later. Due to the lengthy nature of this process, timelines for co-terminal students will be developed so that they are not subject to penalty charges for being late on payments. Prospective co-terminal students are also encouraged to begin meeting with their academic advisors as early as their second year to begin the general conversation of applying.

The following series of audience questions concerned a variety of subjects, including how Federal Work-Study is handled (students apply for jobs on Handshake- a digital job matching service), the relationship between studying abroad and financial aid (many student scholarships can apply to studying abroad, assuming it is a program led by an Illinois Tech faculty member), and waiving health insurance (processing takes a number of weeks, but students looking to pay tuition should just subtract the $1,441 for health insurance).

The final topic of discussion was an individual complaint in which a student was incorrectly accused of being on academic probation, and attempts to resolve the issue with Financial Aid led to numerous referrals until the student had to come to campus to have the issue resolved in person. The Office of Financial Aid’s response was to first apologize for the unsatisfactory experience and then to explain that the office would follow up specifically on the issue’s ticket number to correct its internal routing flows.

This discussion then led into an explanation of the differences between Satisfactory Academic Progress and Academic Probation. Satisfactory Academic Progress is a standard from the United States Department of Education used to ensure students who receive federal aid are making progress towards their degrees by checking for adequate GPA (2.0 minimum for undergraduate students and 3.0 for graduate students), that students are passing at least 2/3 of their attempted credit hours, and that students are not taking more than 150% of the time required for their programs. Meanwhile, Academic Probation is a metric used by the university to evaluate success as a student, under the jurisdiction of the Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

SGA is planning to hold more Town Hall forums with other campus institutions, including the next one with the Office of Technology Services on Wednesday, September 13 from 12:45 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. in the MTCC Ballroom.