Financial aid is available?if you can find it

By By Charly Kuecks

By Charly Kuecks

As a four-year veteran of higher education, I’ve learned how to file a tax return, open a checking account and apply for scholarships and jobs. For those younger students learning to navigate the perils of living on their own8212;from laundry sorting to dating drama to increased schoolwork8212;the Byzantine process of finding ways to cut tuition costs can be frustrating, time-consuming and overwhelming.

President Barack Obama grabbed the attention of college students everywhere with his proposal to make a tuition waiver available to every student who participates in community service. However, amid the multibillion dollar bailouts of banks, auto companies and state governments, this story fell into the dusty place where campaign promises go to wither.
Students who are both Internet-savvy and keen on keeping tabs on their elected officials can find a plethora of information online. A bit of Googling leads you to the IRS webpage on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the formal name of this portion of the stimulus bill. Its Q&A link gives straightforward information on how much the credit is good for ($2,500, a decent sum), how to claim it (with “Form 8863, attached to Form 1040 or 1040A”) and who it applies to (as a graduate student, I am out of luck, for example).

With the pithy appellation at your fingertips, you can also find even more ways to cut your costs through the news media: “How to Bear the Tuition Burden Without a Paycheck,” penned by Tara Siegel Bernard of The New York Times, is exemplary.

Should you take to your Motorola instead of your iMac, I repeat the warning found at the entrance to the underworld in Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here.” After listening to seven minutes of Muzak while on hold, the U’s Financial Aid Office will kindly tell you that it is too early for them to have any concrete info on this tax credit.
The IRS’ Economic Stimulus Information Line is an unhelpful recorded message. The offices of the elected officials who enacted the legislation in the first place only yield answering machines. If I were a clueless 18-year-old agonizing about the ACT and prom, I wouldn’t have lasted through one call, let alone 10.

All joking aside, the university should make materials on financial aid8212;especially new federal programs that could affect a vast swath of the student population8212;easily and clearly available on the web and to the offices that deal with these issues.

The financial aid website, though it has links to solid information, is cluttered. Using the internal search engine of www.utah.edu is hit and miss. Those most likely to benefit from a few thousand dollars toward higher education are also likely to face language barriers, be unfamiliar with the labyrinth of the Internet or not hear about these programs in the first place8212;as the tortuous switch to digital TV earlier this year amply illustrated. If the federal government is going to give us a leg up toward our bachelor’s degrees, let’s make sure that getting the money in the students’ hands well in advance isn’t a Herculean effort.