Akron Modifies Scholarship Distribution, Students Not Thrilled

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Akron has modified how they handle all scholarships that they provide to their students, and those students - at least some of them - are righteously pissed off. But there may be a difference between "righteous" and "right."

It would appear, at first glance, that the University of Akron is screwing over their student body. This was evidenced by the news that they will not only modify their distribution of scholarships but will also change how those scholarships can be used. They're also no longer issuing refund checks for scholarships. As someone who previously lived or died on refund checks during college, I can understand some freaking out about this.

I only found one response on Twitter, but it seemed to sum up the initial general sentiment nicely:

I will stop myself before I discuss how my eyes almost exploded when I made the mistake of actually scrolling through that Twitter feed and focus more on the tweet itself. While I can appreciate the initial outrage, it is a bit melodramatic if you actually take into account the full scope of the information (shocking, I know).

Let's start with the facts

  1. This only affects scholarships that are issued by the school. Any loans, grants, or scholarships awarded by outside organizations are not affected.
  2. The university is specifically limiting scholarships so that the money can only be applied to tuition, fees, and either a meal plan (if you live off campus) or room and board (if you're on campus). I'll call these "university expenses" going forward.
  3. The university will no longer issue refund checks for any money that does not go towards university expenses. Instead, it will return that money to the foundation fund the money came from to be put towards scholarships for other students.

In summation, what the university has said is that, for the upcoming school year, they will still apply any scholarship money that they have awarded to a student's university expenses, but that student won't be getting any more than that. I presume that going forward the university will just stop issuing scholarships for greater than whatever that amount is.

One Akron student has formed a petition on Change.org to right this supposed wrong, and it has subsequently been signed by over 500 people. She cites issues such as the university not informing students of this change before they made it (they emailed every student about it back in February), students not being given dollars that they were promised (legitimate beef), and students now being in a pinch if they already budgeted that money (equal beef).

The Akron student in question, Brianne Angell, is the daughter of a university employee, so her tuition and fees are already paid. What this means for her specifically is that her scholarship will no longer exist unless she uses it for a meal plan and/or on-campus housing, which totally ruins her plans for living in an off-campus apartment that she couldn't afford otherwise. In the Akron Beacon Journal article discussing the issue, there is a telling quote from Angell.

"While the original letters notifying students of their scholarships may not have said, ‘and we promise to pay you this full amount!’ … it is implied," [Angell] said.

That's not really true. While it is generally common practice for universities to pay you every dollar of a scholarship award by refunding the difference after university expenses have been paid, they are under no obligation to do so that I am aware of. The article also points out that the only hardship created for Angell is (as I said) that she can't move out of the dorms and into an off-campus apartment like she wanted. Forgive me if I'm not sympathetic.

I remember my second run at undergrad (I became a non-traditional student once the Army was done with me). Everybody couldn't wait to live off-campus, but all that does is create unnecessary expenses, since apparently an apartment necessitates a TV and cable. It also often requires car and gas, among other things. All of that, as far as I know, is a luxury that goes against that whole "live like a student when you are one so you don't have to when you aren't" credo that actually works if you follow it.

This investigation into where refund money was going was conducted by Jim Tressel while he was overseeing financial aid at Akron, before he became Youngstown State's president. It revealed that the school was paying out roughly $1.7 million in refunds each year, much of which was going "off-campus" for things like off-campus apartments and entertainment.

Let's skip past the jokes where we mock Tressel being on the right side of an investigation for once and throw out some more facts.

  1. That dollar total I just mentioned includes Pell Grants, which are exempt from this new process - if you have been awarded a Pell Grant, and any portion of it is in excess of your university expenses. you will get your Pell Grant as a refund check.
  2. As a direct result of this measure (which was part of wider budget rearranging), the university has seen a 21% increase in the number of students who have been awarded scholarships, as well as a 21% increase in the average amount that each student has been awarded (totalling $7 million, up from $4.8 million the previous year).
  3. I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but the number of students that this affects (students who are attending Akron on scholarships and whose scholarships are greater than the cost of their university expenses) can't be particularly large.

Now, I will say this. There is definitely a certain portion of the student body - those students who a) fall into that description I just mentioned and b) have already planned out the upcoming academic year by budgeting with that refund. These folks, especially when it comes to off-campus housing, could really be in a bind. For that, my boys Bryan and Keith have already solved the issue.

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