By: Taylor Lewis & Rebecca DeLuna
Last Sunday, behind closed doors, Mississippi Legislature made several changes to state grant programs that affect the University of Mississippi Office of Financial Aid and students.
Students will no longer be allowed to combine merit-based with financial need-based grants, sometimes referred to as ‘stacking’ aid.
Laura Diven-Brown, director of the UM office of financial aid, was one of many financial aid directors who had to spring into action upon being notified of these changes.
“We actually had to go in (the system) for anybody that had had two state grants in their package. We needed to get in there and take out that second grant and actually do some email blasts as well, so that people would be informed about this,” Diven-Brown said.
Cody Letchworth, a junior accounting and public policy leadership major, was one of thousands of students to receive an email from UM Office of Financial Aid regarding these changes.
“My thoughts ranged from anger to confusion. It just seems like it’s one thing after another with Mississippi nowadays,” Letchworth said.
Letchworth used to receive both the MTAG and the MESG, two major grant programs affected by the legislature.
Jennifer Rogers, director of student financial aid for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, said in an email to all financial aid directors of MS state universities and colleges that the new rules “will allow us to fully fund all undergraduate grant programs.”
Rogers went on to outline the significant changes, which, in addition to eliminating the “stacking of all undergraduate aid,” also requires new eligibility checks.
“If students are eligible for more than one grant program, students will receive aid through the program that will award that larger amount,” Rogers said.
Letchworth experienced the exact situation Roger’s described, as he will only receive the MSEG grant because it is the larger amount of the two grants he previously received.
“Even though MTAG is only $500 a semester that’s a $1000 a year that you haven’t had to pay your entire college career and then it’s just sprung on you out of the blue,” Letchworth said.
The outrage felt by students, like Letchworth, can be attributed to the suddenness of the changes and the fact that they are not being ‘grandfathered’ in, like many other university programs.
“The problem is that this is supplying to not only new incoming students, but continuing students, people who would have never realized that the rules of the game would change mid-stream if you will,” Diven-Brown said.
Students, like Letchworth, are now turning to loans as a way to make up the financial difference.
“Anytime you have a grant program that is reduced or eliminated from our prospective its sad because that is one less thing we can offer students where they would get free money to help pay for school,” Diven Brown said. “Instead if they need to make up that gap they are often looking at loans.”
Letchworth said that the Mississippi Legislature is to blame for this financial “gap.”
Yet, as the UM Office of Financial Aid works to accommodate students while they adjust to these programs, Diven-Brown thinks that the Mississippi Legislature is working with what funding it has available.
“It’s not fair to people that work so hard in high school and are told to work hard in high school so they can get a free ride to college to only have that ripped out from under them because our legislature puts education under the rest of their inadequate budget plans,” Letchworth said.
(601) 731 – 0505
Laura E. Diven-Brown, director of the University of Mississippi office of financial aid
(662) 915 – 5633
Jennifer Rogers, director of student financial aid for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning
(601) 432 – 6791