Students given financial aid choice

$17.5 million in refunds could go to bursar bills, local economy

 Some students might have a little extra cash in their hands this semester.

SIU distributed almost $17.5 million in financial aid refund disbursements the week before the semester’s classes started, and Terri Harfst, financial aid director, said students have been given the option for the first time to use $200 from their refund checks and apply it to their university bursar bills.

Because some students have taken their refunds, businesses may benefit from the financial boost.

As part of an experimental program, the U.S. Department of Education gave the university a waiver to apply future financial aid awards to past debts for students, Harfst said. Beginning this school year, however, students were directly given their refund money without the bursar office automatically applying it to last semester’s bills.

Now the university offers to pay out Title IV Aid, which students can decline. This aid is an option in each student’s financial aid award letter, that allows him or her to decide whether up to $200 will come out of their financial aid and be credited to his or her bursar balance to pay either non-educational charges such as parking fines or any other prior charges, Harfst said.

Of all the students who were awarded financial aid for the school year, Harfst said 7,800 students have accepted the aid.

“It makes it a lot easier if students go ahead and authorize the payment, because sometimes they do not even think they have a bursar balance because they may be new students or have recently paid their balance off,” Harfst said. “But little things such as parking tickets and student ID fees can be charged to their bursar bill, and as long as they have authorized the Title IV aid, they already have it covered.”

The bursar office has not calculated the amount of students who paid their balances with the refund on their own, but the office is watching it, said Rod Sievers, university spokesman.

“It’s too early to know because students are still receiving refunds, but it would behoove them to pay the debt down to $500,” Sievers said.

Some students who received their refunds have paid their bursar bills first and spent the remaining amount on rent, textbooks and other school supplies.

Shebria Small, a senior from Chicago studying psychology, said half of her refund went toward her bursar bill, and the other half went toward paying her rent.

Asten Mosley, a senior from Chicago studying art, said his entire refund went toward paying for books and his rent.

Vernetta Wright, a senior from Champaign studying rehabilitation services, said she typically spends her refund money on school fees, rent for the semester, textbooks and any other class necessities.

“I try to handle all school issues and money issues immediately whenever I do receive money from the school,” Wright said.

Even with the extra money at students’ disposal, some businesses owners said they expected sales to be better by now, but the opposite is true. Business to be better by now but it has been slow.

“Students are usually buying a lot and getting a lot of things personalized for school, but it has been slower this year in comparison to last year,” said Erkan Alkis, owner of the Embroidery Station in the University Mall.

An auto shop has also been experiencing less business than normal but is expecting it to pick up soon.

“Once the students begin coming back, that’s when business picks up,” Zoltan Horfath, manager at Meineke, said. “It’s still been fairly slow lately, but it’s getting there.”

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