Fed financial aid issues alleged after Mills College, Northeastern merger

Melanie Woodrow Image
Friday, December 2, 2022
Mills grad students describe financial aid issues post merger
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Mills College at Northeastern Univ. students in Oakland say they haven't received federal financial aid award letters following the schools' merger.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Mills College at Northeastern University graduate students in Oakland say they haven't received federal financial aid this semester despite promises their out-of-pocket costs would not increase following a merger between the two schools.

Rayniqua Hamilton says she is the first in her family to graduate high school, college and soon graduate school. Hamilton is a full-time second year Masters in Public Policy student who also works full-time and is a full-time mom to her 4-year-old son Teddy.

"This semester has been very stressful," said Hamilton. In part, Hamilton says because of issues with her federal financial aid at Mills College at Northeastern University.

Mills College in Oakland merged with Northeastern University this past summer. Northeastern University's Student Financial Services dean promised Mills students their total, out-of-pocket cost to complete their degree at Northeastern would be no greater than what it would have cost to complete their Mills degree.

But with the semester nearly over, graduate students like Mathew Burciaga say they still have no financial award letters.

"Financial aid is really a big way that I've kind of offset my living expenses, and you know I've had to dip into my savings you know, because I haven't received anything this year," said Burciaga.

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In October, the school's director of financial aid emailed Hamilton that the school was awaiting authorization from the U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid to offer and process Federal Direct Loans.

But a U.S. Department of Education Spokesperson tells the I-Team, to date, Northeastern University has not submitted an application to add the Mills College site location so that students could be eligible to receive federal grants, loans, and work-study funds.

Writing in part, "The Department has reminded Northeastern about the actions they need to take to request an additional location."

"I mean it's shocking," said Burciaga.

Federal regulations require an institution to apply to the Department of Education for eligibility of an additional location where students will complete 50% or more of an educational program, if the institution wants to disburse federal student aid funds to students at the location.

Regulations do not allow schools to disburse federal student aid funds to students at a new location before the new location is approved, according to a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson.

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College admissions expert Lauren Cook joined ABC7 News to help parents and senior high school students navigate their next steps, whether the student has been accepted, waitlisted or needs more financial aid.

"I've heard from my classmates too that they're just left in the dark," said Burciaga.

In an emailed statement to the I-Team, a spokesperson for Northeastern University said, "Northeastern has been following the guidance of the Department of Education in terms of adding the Oakland campus as a new site, and we will continue to follow the steps they outlined for us."

Also that they were following the steps the Boston office of the Department of Education had outlined for them in terms of approach and timing.

The statement continues, "If there are graduate students who are temporarily unable to access federal loans, we are working directly with them and, if needed, providing interim grants to them from Northeastern. This will ensure that all students are able to continue their education with no additional costs."

After the ABC7 News I-Team spoke with graduate students including Hamilton and Burciaga and shared their information with their permission with Northeastern University, both received emails from the Northeastern University director of graduate financial aid saying he would help resolve their issues.

In one email, he told Burciaga "...it has been exceedingly challenging to get accurate scholarship information for our Mills transfer students and the most successful way... thus far has been from the students themselves."

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"I mean it's the end of the semester. To barely be getting an email about financial aid when you're almost done with the semester, it's a bit of a slap in the face," said Burciaga.

In May, attorney Matthew Hellend filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Mills students alleging Mills misled students leading up to the merger. While the lawsuit doesn't specifically discuss financial aid, Hellend says he's heard from several students facing issues with financial aid.

"One of the promises Mills made to its students was that those who continued on to finish their degree at Northeastern could do so without any increase in anticipated costs and if it turns out that Northeastern can't deliver the financial aid that these students need, then that would be yet another broken promise," said Hellend.

Northeastern's spokesperson told the I-Team it does not comment on pending litigation. Writing in part, "We understand that change is rarely unanimous."

If you are a Mills College at Northeastern University student who would like to speak with Melanie, you can email her at melanie.woodrow@abc.com or reach her over Facebook or Twitter @MelanieWoodrow

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