Delayed refund checks for students

Photo courtesy: FAMU Office of Financial Aid website

Refund checks have become essential to the livelihood of college students across the nation, and a critical lifeline for students on financial aid as they try to pay for textbooks, rent, groceries, and even car payments.

For many students on campus, this has been an occurring issue for far too long.

Spring 2023 Graduate, Alexis Thompson recalls how much her refund helped her during her time on the hill.

“Had I not received refund checks at all, I think college would’ve been a lot different because it funded everything I needed for college,” Thompson said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, 32% of undergraduates nationwide received a refund check during the 2019-2020 academic year.

Some college student bodies rely heavily on financial aid, and students on those campuses count on their refund checks to get by as they complete higher education.

A refund check can be described as excess money left over from your financial aid award after your tuition and additional fees have been paid. Colleges may send checks, or the money may be deposited into a checking account. However, these checks are often caught up in bureaucracy leading to prolonged delays, pushing students into emotional and financial distress.

In 2020, a Yale on-campus publication reported that students who come from low-income households and first-generation students are heavily affected by this. They wait more than seven weeks into the semester to receive these refunds and are financially stressed on top of their schoolwork.

Florida State University’s student business services website states that refunds are supposed to be paid out 1-3 days before the start of the semester and even promises next-business-day refunds in some cases.

This was not the case for student V. Julien who says her refund check took almost 3 weeks.

“When FSU delayed my grants causing my refund check process to be longer, it steamrolled into other facets of my life,” Julien said. “I couldn’t pay my rent, or afford gas, among other things.”

This is just one of the cases that highlights the larger effect financial aid and delayed refund checks have on other financial decisions made by college students.

Spring 2023 graduate of FAMU and current MBA candidate, Dominique Shelton shared how delays in refund checks have affected her credit.

“I have experienced delays in my refund checks, sometimes until mid-October/Early November when school starts in August,” Shelton said.

“I struggled to pay my rent on time, resulting in having to take out more loans and pay with my credit card, adding interest to my credit card balance.”

Students are often unsure what causes such alarming and lengthy delays in their refunds as there seems to oftentimes be a disconnect from the financial aid office to the student on where this money is and what is holding it up.

Dr. Leah Hunter, a professor at the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication offered her insight on the essentiality for students to receive their refund checks to pay for pertinent needs.

“Students typically utilize refund checks for important things like food and clothing,” Hunter said.

She, like many others, attributed these refunds to be an important source of financial stability for students.

“When I was in graduate school, my refund checks were used to pay my rent. They allowed me to buy groceries, buy books, and transportation. They are a lifeline for college students to attend classes and not have to worry about working on top of schoolwork.”