The Student Affairs and Financial Aid departments at Henderson State University announced that, beginning in the Fall 2020 semester, refund checks will be given to students on a much later date.
Brad Patterson, Vice President of Student Affairs and Student Success, approached the Oracle staff with the announcement. He explains that when the Financial Aid department merged with the Student Affairs division on July 31st, 2019, he invited some colleagues from ASU Jonesboro to examine the financial issues plaguing the department. “One of the very first things they said was, ‘Why in the world did you distribute refund checks before classes begin?’”
The origins of this practice are unknown. Patterson does not know for how long this practice has taken place, who initiated it, or why it was initiated. Lecia Franklin, Controller of the Business Office, states that she has been at Henderson State University since 1988, and even then, refund checks were issued before the beginning of classes. Franklin does not know the origins of this poor refund check policy.
According to Patterson, there are two major problems with distributing refund checks before the first day of classes: The practice is in violation of federal law, and it invites students to spend money that they may not actually have. “If you cut a student a refund check the day before classes begin,” Patterson explains, “Guess what’s still open? Registration, and drop right? And bookstore charges! So I get my refund check the day before classes start, and then the next day, I go add a class. And, I go buy two books for it. Now, I’ve gotten my refund check for…$2,500. And, my car is broken down, and it cost me $2,500 to go fix my car. I drop all of it. Now, I don’t have that money anymore, and then the university calls and says, ‘Oops! You were over-awarded!’ And now, you owe a bill.”
In order to eliminate these problems, the Financial Aid department will distribute refund checks for the Fall 2020 semester on Sept. 18, 2020. Patterson explains that the Financial Aid department has to wait for class schedules to solidify on Census Day (Aug. 31, 2020), and then the department has to manually verify that all students meet the requirements for their refund checks.
The departments are also aware that the policy change may create financial stress for some students. “There will be extreme situations,” Patterson acknowledges. “Let’s say that we have a student who is going to be evicted right from their apartment or rental property, or they get a shut-off notice from a utility. Well then, if they can provide that documentation, then we would have an emergency loan program for those types of severe situations.” (He also stressed that “an emergency loan is not for, ‘I was really, really supposed to go to Boca this weekend, and now I can’t go.’”) In a follow-up interview, when asked about the specific requirements for the emergency loan program, Patterson says that those policies are still being drafted.
Patterson stressed that the reason for coming to the Oracle is clear communication—to ensure that students are aware of the changes so they have enough time to plan accordingly. “Part of this messaging that is going out is to help students understand,” he explains, “so that they start thinking about now—about how they budget for the fall semester, knowing that that refund check is going to come a little bit later.”