A Long Hard Road Back to IAIA: Student Debt

BY COLLESTIPHER D. CHATTO

Fifty-two students who attended IAIA last school year didn’t return this fall semester, nearly half of them due to financial holds on their accounts, according to information from Enrollment Management Director, Nena Anaya.   Justin BigHair and Veronica Jourdain are among the 23 students enrolled in Spring 2013 not able to return due to debt owed the school.

Justin BigHair is a junior majoring in studio arts who has been attending IAIA in consecutive semesters since Fall 2010. His very first semester was Spring 2007.  For Spring 2013, he said he received a $700 scholarship from the American Indian College Fund and a tuition scholarship from IAIA.  He also received $1,200 in tribal funding and a $2,000 Pell Grant, but the funding in total wasn’t enough.

Veronica Jourdain has attended IAIA since Fall 2006, majoring in both creative writing (junior) and studio arts (senior).   She stepped out for two semesters in 2012 for medical reasons as well as to repay money owed the school. She returned in Spring 2013.

Jourdain received a $2,000 scholarship from the AICF during the Spring 2013 semester. However, she said she was unable to receive federal funding for the Spring 2013 semester because she has been in college for too many semesters.   As of July 2012, the Pell grant will fund students for no more than twelve semesters.

She also said she missed out on her tribal financial aid because her tribal financial needs analysis wasn’t submitted to her tribe before the deadline.

Timely Submission is Key

Jourdain is not alone in late submission of financial aid paperwork. “We do have several students who wait until the deadline for the TFNA [tribal financial needs analysis] to be sent,”  Financial Aid Director Lara Trujillo-Barela said in an email.

“The student has a major role in completing their FA file and submitting all required documents,” she said. Before the financial aid office can submit any TNFA’s to any tribal entities or determine Pell eligibility, the student has to submit and complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

FAFSAlogo

To assist students with their FAFSAs, the financial aid, and student accounts offices held a FAFSA workshop drive this fall.   For two weeks tables were set up in the academic building and in the cafeteria daily, Trujillo-Barela said.   An after-hours pizza party was held at which time Trujillo-Barela visited with students who lived on campus.

The Struggle

Jourdain and BigHair are now living in Santa Fe, sharing an apartment since August. Thus far, Justin is their only source of income and works as a salesperson at Sunglass Hut in The Santa Fe Place mall.

It has been difficult, he said. “I’m looking for a second job, so I don’t have to spend all of my money on bills.” He would like to be able to cover groceries and miscellaneous things. Adding to this, he also may have to take care of his disabled older brother.

Jourdain is currently unemployed but has been searching for a job since August. She has applied at restaurants, grocery markets, retail stores, libraries, hotels and motels, offices, fast food joints, and other places. She has a potential employment at Bath and Body Works, but it would probably only be short term for a day or a week at most.

Collection Agency

BigHair said he owes about $1,800 and Jourdain owes just under $2,000. In early November, they both received a letter informing them that IAIA turned over their debt to a collection agency.

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IAIA’s student financial aid policy, which students must acknowledge reading  and agreeing to before being able to register for classes, states that “students who fail to meet their financial obligations to IAIA, including but not limited to defaulting on payment of an IAIA promissory note or failing to pay tuition, fees, or charges, may be referred to a collection agency.”

Looking Bleak

The prospect of returning to IAIA in the near future does not look promising. “Unless I can miraculously get the money to pay it off in time, it looks bleak,” Jourdain said. She hopes to return in Spring 2014, if not then Fall 2014.

BigHair might return for the Spring 2014 semester, but now that his bill was sent to a collection agency, he’s not so sure he will because of the debt. If he doesn’t attend next semester, then he hopes to return in Fall 2014.

For now, Jourdain continues to job-search and BigHair will continue working and searching for a second job, and make payments on his bill.

“I need to find myself a rich man,” BigHair joked.

(Featured Photo by Evelina Zuni Lucero)

Copyright © IAIA Chronicle 2013

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