The COVID-19 pandemic has left many people facing financial insecurity, and students may have questions about their specific financial aid status or just financial aid in general. If students do not receive their answers in a timely manner, they're in danger of missing out on crucial financial aid opportunities.
However, UT’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid can take several hours to answer questions via email and phone. UT must fix these issues to provide students better financial support, especially in a time where many feel lost as to what comes next.
My experience with the UT financial aid office began over the summer when I was asked to turn in additional documents to the office for review. I called the financial aid office multiple times over the span of six weeks to resolve the issue.
It was a common occurrence to be on hold for five hours. In one instance I was on hold for seven hours before someone picked up. Since it was summertime, I had plenty of free time and I didn't have to worry about any scheduling conflicts. However, for students who have jobs or a busy class schedule, calling the financial aid office to get questions answered is not a viable option.
Journalism freshman Elisabeth Jimenez had a similarly bad experience when the financial aid office communicated poorly over a period of several months when she had questions about the Work-Study application process. When she first contacted the office about the issue in March, they told her not to worry about it.
“Then in July, they told me they didn’t have Work-Study available. It made me livid,” Jimenez said. “Eventually I got the Work-Study money, but by then a lot of Work-Study jobs had been taken.”
It is true that UT’s financial aid call centers have the daunting task of supporting more than 40,000 undergraduate students. However, it is the office’s responsibility to ensure they can help their students in a timely manner.
“They need to find better ways to adapt to their issues,” Jimenez said. “Money isn’t something you can wait on, especially since I come from a low-income household.”
A potential solution to excessive hold times could be hiring more call center staffers. Additionally, I believe the office should implement a rule where no student has to wait more than a week to get their questions answered.
According to Kathleen Harrison, communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the number of available Work-Study jobs and has caused the financial aid office to experience delays.
“Our focus is on supporting students and their success,” Harrison said in an email.
According to its 2.0 rating and the plethora of negative stories about excessive wait times and misinformation recounted by students on Google reviews, the financial aid office lost its focus well before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The financial aid office is one of the most crucial resources on campus. It has allowed thousands of students to attend the University who would have otherwise not have been able to do so. As such, it is that much more important that they give students accurate information about their financial aid status in a timely manner.
Come next spring, the financial aid office must revitalize their services to better serve the student body in this time of need and beyond.
Vidales is an English freshman from Houston, Texas.