UC Berkeley students face issues with financial aid verification

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Several UC Berkeley students have had their 2017-18 financial aid disbursements put on hold because of issues with the verification process on CalCentral.

Around March, several campus students received a notification by email stating that changes had been made to their financial aid packages. It was not until a few months later that these students became aware that their financial aid disbursements for the 2017-18 academic year had become conditional on the verification of their IRS information.

“It wasn’t a clear notification,” said rising campus junior Rayyan Aburajab. “At the end of May, I was looking at my financial aid, and I saw that it was conditional. That’s when I saw that the verification document was needed. I just happened to see it — I didn’t even know it was there.”

Aburajab said she proceeded to contact Cal Student Central, and a representative told her that she could still fill out the paperwork and send it in. According to Aburajab, the IRS papers took a week to arrive, so she was only able to send the documents at the beginning of June. On July 31, CalCentral confirmed that her documents had been verified, but the majority of Aburajab’s financial aid was not disbursed until Sunday.

According to Cruz Grimaldo, campus assistant vice chancellor and director of financial aid and scholarships, the verification process is not entirely new to UC Berkeley. Grimaldo said in an email that students are selected every year to verify the IRS information provided on their FAFSA applications. Grimaldo added, however, that in the past, UC Berkeley has “had some agency” over which students were selected each year. Because of the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education’s Quality Assurance Program after the 2016-17 award year, the campus is now required to verify all students selected by the Department of Education.

Rising campus junior Jaskirat Gaelan said she believes the notification sent to students around March was not straightforward because students often receive similar email notifications about situations that are less consequential.

“We usually get notifications like that throughout the semester because the details of your financial aid can change,” Gaelan said. “We didn’t realize that we had to look into it.”

Like Aburajab, Gaelan found out only incidentally that her financial aid had become conditional. Gaelan said she was speaking with a representative from Cal Student Central about a different issue when the representative mentioned to her that her financial aid had been put on hold.

Gaelan also said she has experienced difficulty getting in contact with Cal Student Central representatives about problems. According to Gaelan, she once had to call the office 40 to 50 times before her call was taken. Otherwise, she received a message stating that the line had too many callers at the moment.

“It’s just really frustrating that … the school can’t keep up with the number of students that need its resources,” Gaelan said.

Grimaldo said in an email that because the 2017-18 academic year is the financial aid office’s first year as part of the larger federal verification process, it partnered with Cal Student Central to conduct outreach calls to students with missing paperwork.

“It is our practice to send messages to students, both over email and through the Cal Central portal, whenever students are missing anything needed to actualize their Financial Aid and Scholarship awards,” Grimaldo said in an email. “It is our goal to improve the student experience.”

Contact Harini Shyamsundar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.