Financial aid fiasco: Students resort to early graduation, GoFundMe, part-time enrollment

'Canes Central is the hub for advisors on financial aid and course registration matters. Photo credit: Patrick Mccaslin

April 15, 2024 Update: Since this article was published, the University of Miami has sent an email to undergraduate students who would be affected by FACA. This email provides a comprehensive Q&A explaining how the new financial aid policies work. The email was sent on April 11, 2024, meaning there were 38 days between the policy’s implementation and the first communication about it to the entire student body.

The University of Miami has made no public announcement to students regarding the Financial Aid Course Audit (FACA), a significant change to financial aid, nearly 40 days after quietly changing its policy online. Advisors and other University staff have been tasked with sharing the policy, reportedly giving advice that contradicts UM’s newly published policy.

The policy change, which limits students receiving federal or state aid to classes within their primary major, is set to force affected students to abandon part of their degree plan or pay thousands of dollars out of pocket to complete it.

According to an email obtained by The Miami Hurricane, a top UM official indicated that the University knew that it would have to change financial aid policy as early as the fall 2023 semester, despite neglecting to notify students until March 4, 2024.

“I just think they didn’t let us know far enough in advance. I would have planned my schedule a lot differently had I known that this was going to be a thing since my freshman year,” said Samantha Lattanze, a junior with a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in Spanish. “I hate that no one has direct answers on anything. I think it also should be in writing somewhere like exactly what the rules are.”

Lattaze’s advisor told her that she would need to enroll as a part-time student for one of her next two semesters to continue receiving UM aid and complete her degree. Changing her enrollment to part-time would prohibit her from living on campus, being in a Greek organization or participating in UM Student Government.

Her advisor directly contradicted UM’s published policy, which indicates that Lattanze’s financial aid, a merit scholarship from UM, is not included in the policy.

Lattanze wasn’t even aware of the policy until a couple weeks ago when she was discussing her fall class schedule with her advisor, and he offhandedly let her know that she must enroll in 12 credits of her primary major to continue receiving aid.

Lattanze’s mom reached out to a member of the financial assistance office, but found that even she didn’t know enough to advise on the situation. She was redirected to Lattanze’s faculty advisor who typically gives career advice.

Alejandra Hernandez, a junior majoring in biochemistry and global health, reached out to Daniel Barkowitz, the assistant vice president of Financial Assistance and Employment, after receiving the March 4 email telling her she was out of compliance. Barkowitz told her to speak with her academic advisor who then told her that he was unsure and to speak with Barkowitz.

“I was thinking of going to ‘Canes Central in person to see if they could give me an answer, or at least some more information of what will happen next semester, so that way I can just plan myself out and speak with my parents for anything that has to deal with the financial aspects,” Hernandez said.

The confusion around the FACA policy has pushed students to even more drastic measures. One student created a fundraiser to help him finish his studies. Another, following the announcement of the change, confirmed he will graduate early.

“I was thinking about actually staying for a fourth year, just like picking classes I’m interested in or maybe getting a second degree, but definitely not doing that anymore,” said Matias Clotfelter Bastias, a junior graduating this spring with a major in international studies and a minor in Arabic. “At this point, I just can’t deal with this school.”

Clotfelter Bastias also received the March 6 email informing him he was taking courses outside of his primary major, but, in his case, the email was an error. All of his classes, even the ones highlighted in the email, were part of his 120 credit degree plan.

Clotfelter Bastias replied to Barkowitz’ email, pointing out that his course was part of his major. Barkowitz replied, “I’m not an expert on our academic programs and plans, so my best advice is that you run a degree program requirements report through CaneLink and meet with your advisor.”

Clotfelter Bastias uses a Pell Grant, federal loans and the UM President’s Scholarship to pay for his studies. Without them, he couldn’t afford to pay for his classes.

“The way it feels is if you’re not rich, you can’t get the education you want,” Clotfelter Bastias said.