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Financial aid award changes affect students

By Joshua Tadeo | Pulse Staff Reporter

Cash Card
Student buying lunch with his ALAMOCash Card.

Students, whip out your degree plans and make room for a new card in your wallets when applying for financial aid this semester. Changes are astir.

The federal government implemented a new act on April 6, 2012, that limits the total amount of Federal Pell Grant eligibility to six years. The Title IV Consolidation Appropriation Act of 2012, also known as the Lifetime Eligibility Used, gives students a strict timeframe. If exceeded, students will no longer be able to receive Federal Pell Grant funds.

“Students need to be very focused, very strategic, and they absolutely need to be making progress,” said Lamar Duarte, director of Student Financial Services, who encouraged students to apply early, before the federal deadline of June 1, 2013.

Students must meet with faculty advisers and create a degree plan. Transferring to another institution or a four-year university will not reset the financial aid clock; students are expected to graduate with a bachelor’s degree within the 6-year timeframe.

Students will be notified via email by the Department of Education and Student Financial Services office in the student’s ACES Financial Aid account prior to exceeding their limit.

According to the Alamo Colleges’ website, the law applies to “all current and future Federal Pell Grant funds awarded and any used prior to 2012.”

The way students receive awarded money also changed this semester. A total of 23,569 ALAMOCash Cards were distributed by Heartland, the vendor selected by the college district. The verdict is in.

Some students find it very convenient; others are not too happy with the switch because fear of transfer fees, hidden fees and the responsibility that comes with having another card. Students question the partnership with the vendor, Heartland, and wonder if the district can trace student purchases. Others ask why not direct deposit, and why they were not given a choice?

“I like the idea of going green,” said Sandra Piñedo, senator of Public Relations of the Student Government Association. However, the complaints she has heard about the card makes her think transferring the money to a different account is the way to go.

“In a way, it’s kind of convenient,” said Martin Chavez, a freshman Occupational Therapy major. He believes it gives students important lessons in responsibility.

Unlike Chavez, Alyssa De La O, sophomore Communications major, had issues with the card.

“When I was in line to get lunch…the card was declined,” said De La O, who knew there was a balance on the card. Despite the issue, De La O was given the lunch because other students ran into the same issue.

Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for Finance and Administration, explained to the Board of Trustees that the ALAMOCash Card is a pin-based declining balance Discover card, and it cannot be overdrawn and does not employ normal bank fees.

The Alamo Colleges receive no revenue from the program. The new card system saved the district money on postage and labor, not to mention paper, and it offers no liability for unauthorized purchase if the card is lost and reported.

“There’s bound to be some challenges but as long as we address it,” said Dr. Robert Garza, interim vice president of Student Affairs. He believes the new card is all for the better.

The district is currently troubleshooting any disturbances and issues with the cards. More information on the card is available at the ACCELURAID.COM/ALAMOand all questions regarding LEU can be answered at the Financial Aid Office.