Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Reporters Have a Bad Name

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Okay, so there is arguably a stereotype about reporters being dirty, underhanded people who are only interested in the story and are willing to the skew the reality of the situation to make sure that it’s an interesting story. Naively, I didn’t believe this stereotype. And that mistake is the reason for the rant in today’s post.
As many of the friends and readers know, I am almost finished with my Bachelors of Psychology program over at Grand Canyon University. Also, those of you know who know me know that it has not been an easy journey.
I had some serious issues with my financial aid crop up late last year and among the resources that I uncovered was a reporter who works at the Arizona Republic who was writing a story about the “woes of online schooling”. Naturally, I reached out to her. I know that my issues were not an isolated incident and my hope was that by holding GCU accountable for the mistakes that they are making, they might institute better policies and prevent this from happening to other students.
I spent about 3 months talking with this reporter, telling her my story, sending her emails and ensuring that she had access to my records at GCU. The article broke in yesterday’s paper in the business section (the electronic version is here: http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/2012/02/09/20120209arizona-board-hears-complaints-vs-for-profit-schools.html#comments)
The article does mention me and my plight by name. However, that’s about where the accuracy stops. The school, as I suspected they would, lied to cover up their mistakes. The Vice President told the reporter that he “never knew anything about my issue”. Well of course not, the Student Resolution Team specifically blocked that from happening. I asked to meet with a Dean or a President of the school and I was told, and I quote “as far as meeting with a Dean or a President, they will not be able to assist you with financial issues.” It is therefore no surprise that the school told the reporter that they didn’t know anything about my plight.
However, that’s about where the school’s credibility ends. In the article Chris Linderson, the VP for Finance and Compliance is quoted as saying that I have had four Finance Counselors since I started at GCU. That’s a lie. I’ve had at least six. They are; James Mitchell, January Harrison, Jasmine Taylor, Sarah Crouse, Chrissy MacDonald and David Jacobson.
Going back to my issue with Financial Aid, on July 14th, 2011 I received an email from FAFSA saying that my aid had been processed and that I would be getting the full amount. The following day I received another email from FAFSA saying that my aid had been processed and was available.
Then, on July 18th, 2011 I got an email from GCU saying that I have been selected for “verification” and that I needed to redo my FAFSA and turn it in, and that’s when the trouble began. On August 9th, 2011 I got another email from FAFSA saying that my student loan had been changed; it had been cut in half.
I immediately contacted GCU about this and was met with nonchalance. They literally told me “nothing’s wrong”.  Apparently getting your financial aid cut in half inexplicably and being told that you had to pay for half of your schooling out of pocket is “not wrong”.
Continued efforts to contact the school were met with increasing hostility. The school blamed the government for the error saying, and I quote; “The decision to give you less money for the academic year is not GCU’s decision, it is the Federal government.  You need to call the FAFSA representatives if you have concerns about how much money you will receive.  I will have the Office of Financial Aid review your account regardless, just to make sure everything is correct.  Keep in mind, if you are reaching your aggregate limit, there will be no more funds for your education.” Are you kidding me? What kind of bullshit answer is that? Reaching my aggregate limit? I’m not even halfway there yet, I have plenty of aid remaining. And the Federal Government awarded me full financial aid, then GCU “corrected something”, then I have half the aid and I’m just supposed to believe that the government changed their minds?
Next, at the behest of GCU themselves, I called FAFSA directly on August 10th. I spoke with someone named Crystal. She told me, and I quote “the Federal Aid Administrator at GCU is the person who is completely and solely responsible for this. FAFSA has no reason to deny additional aid based on your income and the change in your award was the direct result of the correction made by GCU.” Hmmm…so GCU says that they aren’t responsible, but FAFSA says they are. Call me crazy, but I’m inclined to believe FAFSA on this one.
I contacted GCU again via email that same day. The response I got was, and I quote “everything is in order on your account.”  Really? My financial aid is cut in half, FAFSA says that you changed it, and my academic counselor is telling me that I have to pay half of my costs, and everything is in order? There haven’t been any changes to the laws or regulations about how financial aid is awarded. There haven’t been any changes to the number of classes I’ve been taking, my number of dependents and my income has dropped and yet my award is reduced.
It wasn’t until several weeks later after I involved the Department of Education that Finance counselor miraculously discovered the error; the Verification Packet that GCU submitted to FAFSA had me marked down as a half-time student. FAFSA recalculated my aid based on that information. Once they corrected it, my aid was restored to normal.

In the article the VP at GCU is quoted as saying: “In this case, Clayborn's financial-aid calculation changed last summer, in part, because the number of class credits he was taking increased and there were changes in his household income. It took a few months -- until early December -- for all of the federal loan and grant payments to show up on his account, she added. That may have led Clayborn to conclude that he would have to pay expenses out of pocket, Linderson said.” What a crock of shit. This school and this spokesperson obviously do not know the innate detail of the records of which I keep. My first semester at GCU was 12 credits (UNV103, CWV101 & EDU 310). My second semester was also 12 credits (EDU230, EDU 215 & EDU 225). My third semester was 16 credits (ENG260, PHI103, MAT134 & ENG350). My fourth semester was also 16 credits (ENG450, ENG358, EDU313N & ENG460). This financial aid incident happened during my 5th semester, during which I took 12 credits. So, if I went from two semesters of 16 credits and full financial aid, I ask you, dear readers, how the hell does dropping to 12 credits constitutes and “increase in the number of credits”?

What does all of this have to do with why reporters have a bad name? Because I gave all of this information to the reporter at the AZ Republic and she didn’t do anything with it. Instead she wrote an article that painted me to be an unassuming imbecile who can’t calculate student loans. By the time this happened let’s not forget that I was starting my third academic year with this school so It’s not like I was new to the process. This reporter was armed with enough information to call the school out on their lies and hold them accountable and get answers, and she blew it. The whole reason that I cooperated in the first place was so that she could make people more aware and keep this kind of thing from happening to others. I was na├»ve to think that a reporter had the civic duty to spread the truth and inform the people who read the paper about what happens. This will certainly be the last time that I cooperate with a reporter on a story like this one. I’m just offended that after all of the conversations that we had and the mountain of evidence that I sent her that would even imply that I just didn’t know what was going on. 


 

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These blogs represent my thoughts, ideas and opinions. They may be different from yours. You may not agree with them. While I do enjoy a good, polite debate on a topic (where points are countered with other points based on logic, reason and fact), I do not enjoy an argument (where you tell me that I am wrong simply because you disagree and cannot offer any reasons to support your position). I am very respectful of others, and I expect everyone on here to be respectful in return, not only to me, but to each other as well. Disrespectful posts will be deleted automatically. Feel free to share your ideas, but keep it civil, please.