FAMU’s aid office fails to serve

Florida A&M University students waiting in line to speak to financial aid.
Photo courtesy: Stacey René

Florida A&M University prides itself on excellent customer service. Yet departments, such as the Office of Financial Aid, have been impacting its reputation negatively according to students.

Many report the customer service in the financial aid office as unacceptable. Students complain of long hold times over the phone, a lack of communication, and system crashes on a semesterly basis.

Since the start of the semester, a multitude of students have not received their refund checks. The system used for FAMU’s financial aid is said to be brand new per the staff members. In the past, delays have often run from the middle to the end of the semester. When these deferrals occur, it impacts students in need of funding, drastically.

Brendon O’Gilvie, a senior broadcast journalism student, still has not received his refund although having no holds or issues. He expressed how it affects his living and academic expenses when his aid is prolonged.

“It’s super difficult as a full-time student and employee,” O’Gilvie said. “There’s been some semesters where I haven’t gotten a check for months. Starting school in August and not getting your refund check until December is crazy. They need to do a better job of executing or appointing someone new.”

Numerous students rely on their semester’s refund checks to pay for things such as rent, books, and groceries.

Kelis Scott, a senior broadcast journalism student, finds the process of receiving assistance stressful.

“You’re just a number to them,” Scott said. “It feels like nothing ever gets done unless you constantly bother them. It’s like you’re not a person whose money is with the school and entrusted with the people in that office. I can’t help but feel bad for future students that have to deal with this.”

According to famu.edu, the office staff consists of just 13 employees. With an influx of students this academic year, some are concerned it is affecting their performance. Parents and students alike question the proficiency of the training employees receive or lack thereof.

Across the tracks, Florida State University’s aid office appears stable in its performance and service. Students express a state of ease when working with their aid office.

Victoria White, a senior finance major, has always received her aid before classes commence.

She said her encounters have been nothing short of exceptional.

“My experience at FSU has been a blessing,” White said. “They offer great customer service to students. I’ve personally never experienced an issue with my financial aid. The department communicates effectively by sending email reminders and responding to students in an appropriate time range via phone calls.”

Director Sue Vickers of the OFA at FSU explained the in-depth process taken to serve students efficiently.

“We work to prepare by educating our students on the financial aid process as well as bringing in additional resources as needed,” Vickers said. “The OFA uses a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool called Salesforce to manage student emails. Generally, students receive a response to an email within 72 hours unless the research is required in a given situation. All financial aid staff have access to and assist in providing responses to student emails.” 

FSU’s OFA consists of 44 full-time employees, as well as some part-time employees and Federal Work-study students. According to Vickers, they obtain training from their immediate supervisor in a one-on-one manner and the entire office receives training within mandatory staff meetings. New employees shadow other employees until they begin the process of speaking with students while still being accompanied by seasoned staff members.

The staff is broken into specialized operational sections to distribute tasks, although each member is equipped with knowledge of most aid topics. Resources such as federal training tools, webinars, and courses are also made available for immediate assistance.

Director Lisa Stewart of FAMU’s OFA failed to comment in regard to the growing complaints made against the department. Back in 2021, a petition had been made by students to address their “extremely slow and unreliable” practices. FAMU students hope the staff seeks to improve their service by taking notice of their alarming performance and making a change.