By Kelly Mason
Flight science major Niki Neigebauer is dropping out of Western Michigan University after her freshman year.
She’s been a full-time student for both the fall and spring semesters, she’s a Dean’s List student and she’s not coming back to college. After a constant struggle with financial aid since the fall, it’s become too much.
“It all started back in August, when I came in for the fall semester. A couple weeks in, I found out that my uncle had embezzled all my money from my college fund,” said Neigebauer. “He quite literally stole it from under my nose.”
Neigebauer’s grandmother passed away in mid-February and her mom spent a month in Arizona to try to sort things out.
During that time frame, she discovered that the uncle was taking money from family estates, money that was supposed to go to Neigebauer and her mom.
“What ended up happening was that he used that money for other personal means and ended up losing both of his homes,” she said. “With all my money gone for college, it’s pretty hard to pay for something you don’t have money for with loans and what not.”
She met with supervisors from the Office of Financial Aid during the fall semester, and continued to meet with them this past semester.
Neigebauer was told that if she didn’t come up with the funds needed before the beginning of Summer I, she would not be able to fly.
She also did not receive any assistance from FAFSA excluding the subsidized/unsubsidized student loans.
“I was very disappointed because that’s the career choice that I’ve made. It’s very sad knowing that no matter what you did or how hard you tried, it won’t amount to anything. It’s a very depressing feeling,” said Neigebauer.
Mark Delorey, Director of Student Financial aid, said that the formula for determining federal financial aid is called Federal Methodology.
“[Federal Methodology] determines what someone would be able to contribute. The FAFSA is nothing but a vehicle to collect the financial information on the family to come up with their relative financial strength,” Delorey said. “The outcome of that is called the expected family contribution. It determined how expected the family is to contribute. Then that serves as an index to award the need-based financial aid.”
Delorey also stated that if a student doesn’t qualify for any federal grants, they automatically won’t be eligible for the WMU grants.
So that means that if you get screwed out of financial aid from the government, you also get screwed by the school.
One would presume that because no federal financial assistance was awarded, you would at least get some help from Western; but that’s not how it works.
Neigebauer currently has two plans for the upcoming summer. Plan A is to work as many jobs as possible to save for school, and whatever money is leftover to be put towards flight lessons at a local airport in her hometown of Grand Rapids.
If that doesn’t work out, then Plan B is joining the armed forces.
She said that from the way things have been unfolding lately, she’ll probably end up going to basic training.
“I’m just going to end up being another statistic, so to speak,” she said. “Just another college dropout where I didn’t have the money to go to school and I just end up being another failure like the rest of my family.”
As a fellow WMU student struggling to pay for college, I can relate to my friend Niki.
I have been fighting with financial aid for over a year.
Since the government thinks my family makes too much money, we are denied any assistance. Since my family doesn’t receive any help from the government, I am not permitted work-study and I’m automatically disqualified from receiving any grants from Western.
In addition to that, my parents were not able to obtain a parent loan and I was denied a supplemental loan from PNC.
The only loan I have is the Stafford Loan for $5,500 and because my parents don’t have a loan, I was able to take out an extra $4,000. So I have nearly $10,000 in debt this year, and that still doesn’t cover everything.
My mom has been unemployed since September, and quite frankly, we have no idea how to finance the 2012-2013 academic year.
So Western, without financial aid, scholarships, private loans, parent loans, work-study or grants, how can my family afford to pay for college for the next three years?
Over the past few months, I have met with numerous supervisors at the Office of Financial Aid and I have filled out every appeal form necessary to get them to review my situation, but nothing has happened so far.
“It’s a shame that money can ruin dreams,” Neigebauer said.
Words cannot express how disappointed I am in the school I love.
Niki and I are both smart, extremely hard-working students just trying to pursue an education.
I have no doubt that there are others on campus who are experiencing similar situations, and this story goes out to them.