Money Woes: Financial Aid at AU


Kelcie Pegher

It costs $47,386 to attend AU this year, a six percent increase from last year’s tuition. With a tuition hike during the recession, many students struggling to finance their education are caught in a bind.

This figure, noted on AU’s Web site includes tuition at $34,456; room at $8,630; and board at $4,300. With the cost of college rising, sophomore Kayla Herrington is worried about how she’ll pay for the next two years of college. Looming over her undergraduate career is the prospect of 25 years of debt repayment.

How is she going to alleviate her money woes?

“I would love to go into the Peace Corps after college,” she said. (The Peace Corps has a program for reimbursing college loans where volunteers may apply for deferment of federal Stafford, Perkins and Consolidation loans and partial cancellation of Perkins Loans.) “But if I don’t get that, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

While AU retention rates are high, AU students are wondering what to make of balancing their budget and attempting to receive a top-notch college education. In a recent e-mail sent out by the university, the financial aid office noted a six percent increase in financial aid applications. Though a college education is more important in the present day than ever in the past, the widening gap between tuition and a middle class family’s income makes it more difficult to reasonably afford.

Congress is attempting to advance a bill called the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which the federal government would use the next ten years to invest $40 billion by cutting subsidies for private loan companies and funneling the cash to Pell Grants. According to, thirty years ago Pell Grants were able to cover 77 percent of the cost of attending the average four-year public school, but today it covers only 35 percent, failing to keep up with today’s college prices.

Struggling students are chock full of suggestions for reform. A student who prefers to remain anonymous discussed what she had suggested for changing the financial aid system. Though she comes from an affluent family, with eight siblings, she pointedly asked financial aid to consider how much a family can afford, not just their assets. Though a student’s family may have an expensive car, anomalies — like a family with nine children attending private universities — can conflate black and white methods for determining financial need.

As most know, the bundles of FAFSA and other required documents the financial aid office — to be fair, the federal government — requires can get complicated. Even make the most prudent students miss opportunities. With three brothers in college and four siblings attending a private high school, her family is already over-extended. When this student asked the financial aid office if she had sent in all the appropriate forms, she was given a thumbs up. However, she didn’t realize that sibling enrollment forms were available, and she missed an opportunity for a lot more potential aid.

Another issue brought up by students: who is paying for the loans? Kayla Herrington argues that it is unfair to assume that loans are being paid by parents. Many students feel that financial aid should take into account who will be paying back the loan post-college, the parents or the student.

When a scholarship that Herrington had received didn’t process, she was left with a stop on her account and a $6,000 balance. On her Student Snapshot, she was unable to figure out what had happened until she realized her scholarship had never been put in. She said there should more accountability within the financial aid and student accounts department. With a simple change in her Student Snapshot, her records were altered, with no paper trail to track the changes.

“Honestly, if something as important as a scholarship falls through, send a letter,” she said. A $6,000 change in what she was paying forced her to scramble for money on the heels of the new semester. In a single parent household with siblings, this can be tremendous load to shoulder.

Students at AU hope for ways to make the financial aid bureaucracy more streamlined and transparent. As long as a life-long debt repayment remains the norm, financial aid should at least make it easy for students to figure it all out.

Despite several e-mails and phone calls, financial aid could not be reached for comment on this article.