Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Although it has just begun, for some students at Tennessee State University (TSU), the school year is already over.

As the Black College Wire writes:

"TSU's main focus is supposed to be the students. "Students Matter Most" is plastered all over campus."

Many students have felt as if they didn't matter at all in recent weeks."

Four hundred students were sent packing this week for financial reasons. Another 900 were saved at the last minute via emergency donations of aid from alumni, faculty, staff, and a local church.

TSU is the only state-funded university in Tennessee that is a historically black school. Did I mention that?

TSU President Melvin N. Johnson a $3.2 million state budget cut, a decrease in out-of state student enrollment and an increase of out-of state student tuition had a large financial impact on the university.

Johnson also said that the number of financial concerns surrounding the university may in large part be contributed to the state wide economic woes.

Some students blamed troubled Sallie Mae.

Michael Jones, associate director of financial aid, says the university traditionally has had to purge students, but the situation is far worse this year because the university faces a $6 million shortfall, tuition has increased, many students no longer qualify for loans and lenders have been slow to release money, Jones said, noting faculty layoffs will be announced later this month.

"One of the issues we're having is loans with Sallie Mae," Jones said. "There are technical issues that we're resolving rapidly.

"The second issue is students turning documents in late," Jones said. "If they're turned in, in August, they won't be processed immediately. If they're turned in during registration, they won't be processed until after registration.

"The third issue is with the economy, people don't have the money. Students don't have the money to pay for school."

Another problem financial aid is facing is disbursing scholarships.

According to Jones, whenever a certain department offers a scholarship it is required to submit the information to financial aid in June. Financial aid, since the switch to BANNER Services this summer, is required to create a database for each scholarship before it can be applied to student accounts and appropriately disbursed.

This year, Jones said many departments failed to submit their scholarship information on time.

Rita Touzel, a senior business administration major from Nashville, told the student newspaper at TSU like the vast majority of the affected students she turned her documents in on time and still face problems.

"I turned in my independent student verification and for two weeks it's been pending," she said. "It takes two weeks to process paperwork. Did you know that?"

Financial aid workers at the university say they are understaffed and have been working long hours trying to process everything. Employees in the office have been working extended hours, some arriving as early as 6:30 a.m. and leaving sometimes as late as 10 p.m. every night since the beginning of August.

Many complaints from students claimed financial aid was showing favoritism to athletes.

"About three of the (football players) came in with their coach and went straight to the back to talk to counselors," said

Brandon Taylor, a senior business marketing major from Gary, Ind. "Then some of the cheerleaders went right to the front ahead of people who had been waiting since 8 o'clock this morning."

During worship service Sunday, Bishop Joseph Warren Walker III, senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church asked the congregation to give what they could to students who attended the service.

No one left the altar until every need was met.

On Monday, Walker presented a check of almost $51,000 to the university administration to cover the expenses of 11 students.

"When these students graduate, they will reach back and they will be a blessing and they will see this kind of giving and it just goes from generation to generation. That's what it's all about for us," he said.

In any event, it seems that far too many students are being punished for things over which they personally had no control.

However, let me end with this comment from Michael Jones, associate director of financial aid who told the student paper, "It probably looks bad," said Jones, "but reverse it and look at all the students who got all their money."

I guess that is one way to look at it, Mike.

The following is from WSMV (Nashville).

400 Students Forced To Leave TSU

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Financial problems at Tennessee State University have forced hundreds of students at the school to pack their bags and leave campus.

Even though she is frustrated, Sharia Howard said she counts herself among the more fortunate. At three weeks into the school year, she and others haven't received financial aid to buy books. However, Howard said it's worse for many of her classmates, who have been told to leave school because they can't pay tuition.

"TSU's system sucks. Everything is wrong with the system," said Howard.

"You don't have any other options but to give up, and you don't want to do that," said student Tonae Ellis.

More than 1,300 students were given a deadline of last Friday to secure financial aid or be dropped. Last-minute donations from alumni and faculty saved 900, but still left 400 students are in limbo.

On Monday, the 400 students received letters letting them know they've been dropped from classes and have 48 hours to vacate the residence hall.

Michael Jones at TSU's Financial Aid Office said they've always had to purge students, but this year the situation is much worse because many can't afford increased tuition and no longer qualify for certain loans. Also, new software hasn't been working properly, and lenders have been slow to release money.

"The fact that you're telling somebody 'No,' that hurts. Whether or not we can show it, or they see it on our face, it does hurt when you have to tell a student, 'No,'" said Jones.

On Sunday, Mount Zion Baptist Church raised $30,000 for 16 students in its congregation who were dropped.

TSU officials said while the deadline has passed, they may reinstate those 16 students if they have the money soon.

The school is facing a $6 million shortfall. School officials said they'll announce plans for faculty layoffs later this week.

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