Two weeks into the fall semester, hundreds of Washington State University students are still without financial aid as some struggle to pay for books, housing, and food.
In August, officials with WSU reported a glitch in their new disbursement software that delayed payments to thousands of students.
“Early on we thought we could have this mess cleaned up in about three weeks, it turns out its going to be about five weeks,” said WSU Spokesperson Darin Watkins.
The delay means some students may have to wait until mid-September to receive financial aid.
To date, 13,250 of 14,000 students system-wide have received full or partial payments. Watkins estimates they have reached roughly 75 percent disbursement.
“There is definitely a lot of confusion,” said Kaitlin Gillespie, a junior at WSU majoring in journalism. She is also editor of The Daily Evergreen, a student-run newspaper. “People were waiting in line for two, three hours and it was extremely frustrating.”
Gillespie said she has received partial disbursement of her financial aid, but is awaiting roughly $4,000 in scholarships.
To help students get by, WSU has waived late fees on tuition and offered loans of up to $2,000 to help pay for housing and books. The loan amounts will be deducted from financial aid payments once they arrive. Watkins said students have taken out $1.5 million in such loans over the past two weeks.
The university has also provided emergency loans of up to $500, which must be paid back in full by the end of the semester.
Staff members at the university have written letters to landlords to inform them that students may be late on their rent.
“We do recognize the impact this has on students,” said Watkins.
However, he denied a report by Gillespie and The Daily Evergreen that claimed students were forced to turn to food banks due to the delay in aid.
“There have been a lot of people who haven’t had food because of the financial aid delays,” Jeff Tietjen, assistant manager for family development at the Community Action Center (CAC), told the newspaper.
Gillespie reported that traffic to the center’s food bank had tripled on Mondays and Thursdays as some students cut back on food expenses to save money for textbooks.
“This year they were noticing a lot more people as compared to last year listing ‘delays in financial aid,’ as the reason for coming in and using those services,” she told 97.3 KIRO FM Thursday.
Speaking in generalities, Watkins acknowledged the “hardship” the glitch has caused for students.
“We’re really sorry this happened,” he said. “This wasn’t something that was done maliciously or intentionally. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.”
Gillespie said the school is “doing the best they can.”
Those students needing financial assistance in lieu of loan payments are asked to visit the financial aid office on their respective campus.