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Financial Aid Crisis Hits Tennessee State Univ. (1511 hits)

By The Meter Staff -- Black College Wire


Fast fundraising efforts helped to retain nearly 900 of 1,338 students who were to be purged from Tennessee State University on Friday, Sept. 5. Donations to TSU's Bridge Grant Program provided funds to some students who fell short financially.

Also, a local church has raised $15,000 for students who were purged. The remaining students, about 400, were given 48 hours to leave the universtiy, according to news reports.

Earlier last week, TSU President Melvin N. Johnson asked the community to make donations to the Bridge Grant Program, which is a new initiative designed to bridge the gap between cost of tuition and fees and each student's available resources. [Related Editorial]

"Our greatest assets cannot be counted in dollars and cents, but rather in people," Johnson said in a letter to the TSU community on Sept. 5.

In his statement, Johnson addressed the university's financial state.

A $3.2 million state budget cut, a decrease in out-of state student enrollment and an increase of out-of state student tuition had a large financial impact on the university.

Johnson also said that the number of financial concerns surrounding the university may in large part be contributed to the state wide economic woes.

Although the number of applicants to TSU increased by 30 percent this year, the number of students able to pay their tuition and fees significantly declined.

The possibility of hundreds of students being purged may be startling but Mike Jones, assistant director of Financial Aid, said about 500 students are purged each semester.

"This semester has taken its toll on everyone," Jones said.

Alison Thomason was among the students struggling to secure her financial aid awards for the fall semester.

"They just purge me every time there's a purge date," said Thomason, a sophomore early childhood education major from Chicago. "I had to take out another loan with Sallie Mae yesterday. I have to make sure it comes in on time."

Thomason was not alone.

Samantha Pate said her struggles with financial aid began in June. "My loans were still pending and my mom's information was listed as incomplete," said Pate, a sophomore criminal justice major from Sevierville, Tenn.

Other delays and problems with financial aid monetary disbursements were contributed to issues loan company Salle Mae and the transition to BANNER Services, TSU's new software platform system.

"Sallie Mae, like any other organization, may encounter technical difficulties," said John Cade, associate vice president for Enrollment Management. "This is the first year I've known this to happen. There could be any number of reasons that kept (them) from getting their funds to us on time."

Cade also mentioned that about 85 percent of students are looking for some source of financial aid.

However, Sallie Mae disclaimed issues with their loan company. In an e-mail sent to The Meter, a spokesperson, Martha Holler, said that only a small portion of TSU's student population was affected by technical errors.

"We stand ready to immediately disburse additional loans to every eligible TSU student as soon as the loans are approved by the school - until then, we are forced to remain on the sidelines," Holler said in the e-mail.

Foundation finds more funds for students

The Department of University Relations and Development, which raises funds for the TSU Foundation, was able to make significant contributions to out-of-state students because of loosened restrictions on donated monies, doing so with the Bridge Grant Program Johnson started this semester.

The Tennessee State Web site reads, "Your gift to the Tennessee State University Foundation allows us to provide scholarships, departmental support, and other special projects that benefit our students."

When individuals, groups and corporations contribute money to the TSU Foundation, they have the option of selecting specific recipients based on requirements they may set when making their donations.

"Oftentimes, (the monies given by donors) are sent as restricted funds-monies that go to specific students or organizations," Cade explained.

This summer, a five-year moratorium restricting the allocation of charitable dollars, was lifted, according to Cade. As a result, University Relations and Development was able to give more money to students in general.

Additionally, the newly developed scholarship Web site played a large role in the disbursement of those funds.

"The Web site was like a one-stop shop for offering scholarships," Cade said. "Within a month of its launch (in April), more than 2,200 students applied for aid."

Church lends helping hand

On Sunday, Sept. 7, members of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville raised money for 15 TSU students. The church raised $15,000 in about thirty minutes.

During service, Mt. Zion Bishop Joseph W. Walker III invited all TSU students who may have be en purged to come to the church's alter for help with their tuition and fees. Walker said he would personally pay for one young student's remaining fees.

The money raised by the congregation will be provided to the remaining 14 students.

Mt. Zion officials said they will release funds to TSU on Monday.


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A version of this article was originally published in The Meter, the Tennessee State student newspaper.

Posted Sep. 09, 2008
Posted By: Jehan Bunch
Wednesday, September 10th 2008 at 11:47AM
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