Financial Aid Increases

The familiar long lines outside the Financial Aid Office at Santa Monica College have grown longer in recent years, partly due to an unexpected jump in applicants greater than the rest of the nation, according to numbers released by the school and the federal government.

From 2007 to 2012, applications nationwide have increased by 80 percent, but at Santa Monica College, they have more than doubled, according to the college. Financial Aid and Scholarships will provide more than $45 million to SMC this year, according to a report presented at a Sept. 6 Board of Trustees meeting.

Many of the students applying for financial aid at SMC often stand in line for over an hour to turn in required paperwork or meet with advisers.

In the first week of school, Kristi Leong was no stranger to the line outside the Financial Aid Office. She stood in several times and said she left the office feeling unsatisfied, knowing that she would have to rejoin the line again the next day.

Even after a student has met all the requirements set by the Department of Financial Aid, it takes six to eight weeks for their file to be reviewed, according to the office. Students seeking Federal Work Study have to wait up to eight weeks for their official letter before they begin work.

Although it seems that the gradual increase of FAFSA applicants would not come as a surprise to the SMC Financial Aid Office, this year’s spike in students was unexpected according to Teresita Rodriguez, vice president of enrollment development.

Applicants for FAFSA have been increasing at an average annual rate of 4.7 percent from 1997-98 to 2008-09, according to the financial aid website. However, in 2011-12, the number increased 13.8 percent.

The increase in applicants at the SMC Financial Aid Office caused the office to close its doors to the public for several days in order to make a dent in the paperwork.

On the state level, the California Student Aid Commission reported that $1.5 billion of grants were awarded in 2011-12. The grant funds have been divided among 341,925 recipients.

Not only are more students seeking financial assistance, there are also more people pursuing higher education. In October 2011, 68.3 percent of students who graduated high school earlier that year were enrolled in a college or university, just below the record high of 70.1 percent in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2007-08, 47 percent of students were receiving federal aid, and an additional 18 percent were receiving another form of financial assistance.