Pennsylvania budget impasse leaves college students without funds
Point Park University senior Brittany Lauffer has to work a bit harder this semester because of Pennsylvania’s budget impasse.
The broadcast journalism major kept her off-campus apartment this school year because she expected a $3,634 refund check from the school to help her pay rent. But there was a problem: She has received $1,824.
Because Pennsylvania has not approved an annual budget, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) has not provided Lauffer’s grant money to Point Park, so Lauffer received about half. Busy with school and work, the 21-year-old increased her freelance photography workload and added a part-time job to cover the missing grant money.
“It’s pretty miserable,” Lauffer said. “I don’t even have time to spend with my family or friends because I have to work.”
The state budget impasse has left 153,585 college students waiting to receive PHEAA grants according to state figures, so many of those students have had to borrow, reach into savings or work more to make ends meet.
Keith New, PHEAA spokesman, said there is nothing the agency can do until the state passes a budget.
“Like everyone, we’re just spectators,” New said. “Right now we’re just trying to be prepared for the moment” the budget gets done.
Gov. Tom Wolf recommended the state provide flat funding for PHEAA at $344.8 million, New said. The agency has set aside $75 million to help pay student grants. What is owed will end up in the students’ hands, New said.
“Sometimes, colleges accommodate the students if they know the aid is coming but may be delayed,” said Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher for Edvisors.com, a website that provides insight to families trying to pay for college. “They will not seek payment from the student for the delayed aid, but the schools will not issue a refund that students need to buy books until the state aid actually becomes available.”
According to George Santucci, director of financial aid at Point Park, that is how the school is handling the situation. Since the money will eventually be released, Point Park is not expecting students to cover the cost of the grants. However, some students who were due refunds either did not get them or received only a portion.
Santucci said the school calculates the amount of money each student has received in scholarships, grants, federal loans and alternative loans. This award amount is then used to cover all university-related fees, including tuition, technology fees and on-campus housing. If there is money left after fees are paid, the student receives the money in a refund check.
Santucci said 950 Point Park students are in line to receive a PHEAA grant, and of those, 500 would have a credit on their account to be refunded. The school is projected to receive a total of $1.5 million from PHEAA grants.
The refund checks range from $1 to thousands of dollars, Santucci said.
Some schools across the state have the ability to forward grant money to students before receiving the money from the state. Financial aid secretaries at Slippery Rock University and Edinboro University confirmed that the schools awarded their students the money.
For Slippery Rock senior Matthew deVries, 22, the payment mattered. Slippery Rock paid forward the $1,177 he was due in the PHEAA grant, which allowed him to receive $530 in a refund check.
“I would have had to take out extra money from my parents or a private loan if I didn’t get it,” he said.
He used the refund to help with rent payments for his off-campus apartment and textbooks.
The same happened with Edinboro University senior Ashley Olinger, 21. She received her full refund because the school paid her $1,840 grant.
Point Park junior Matt Kruth, 21, said he is slated to receive two grants from PHEAA. His refund check was estimated at $6,500, but he received only $2,000.
“Thankfully, I’m only using the refund for rent on an off-campus apartment,” Kruth said.
Phillip J. Poupore is a journalism student at Point Park University.