Financial aid mishap leaves four fashion students scrambling

A financial aid mishap leaves four fashion students $9000 in debt with nothing to show for it.


Laura Roberts

Farja Bradham (left) Laura Roberts (left center) Sydney O’Shei (right center) AnneMarie S. Guerdan (right)

Conner Wilson, Reporter

Four SUNY Buffalo State students had their financial aid retroactively denied, and are expected to pay it back, after being approved to participate in a visiting program in partnership with the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Buffalo State’s website describes the program opportunity for fashion majors. “Fashion students that are selected can participate in the 3-in-1 program at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). This allows seniors to be attending FIT and graduate with an associate’s degree from FIT in addition to graduating from Buffalo State.”

Fardja Brabham and Sydney O’Shei are fourth-year fashion students and AnneMarie S. Guerdan Laura Roberts are fifth-year fashion students. All four were approved for the program.

Brabham, Guerdan and Roberts all had their funding denied and received an outstanding bill of around $9,000 each for their fall 2017 semester. O’Shei is in a similar situation, with the bill being for her current spring 2018 semester.

“Myself as well as two other girls were approved for financial aid funding for fall 2017, it was then given to us,” said Brabham, “Upon receiving the funding we paid our tuition bills at The Fashion Institute of Technology.”

O’Shei’s retroactive denial of funds came later than the other three students. She was contacted right before her current semester started.

“I needed 19 credits to graduate from Buff State. I took 15 of them last semester. So then this semester I only needed one class which is my internship to transfer over, so they called me two weeks before I came back here and told me I had no loans,” O’Shei said, “I did end up getting a partial Pell Grant because of the amount of credits I was taking. Other than that, I need to pay for this entire semester out of pocket.”

The problem came for Roberts, Guerdan, and Brabham in October of last year when the students were contacted by Buffalo State’s Financial Aid Office.

Basically, our funds were taken away because we didn’t have enough credits transferring back to be counted as a full semester in order to get our loans,” O’Shei said.

“They were aware of the amount of credits that would be transferred back, but we were still approved, and that was in April of the prior year,” said Brabham, “The person who oversees the program in the Financial Aid Office signed off on us.”

The students each sought approval from many departments before going to FIT.

Each one of us had gone through the process of meeting with the head of our department Dr. Boorady,” Roberts said, “We met with each of our advisors. The third person we went through was the financial aid department.”

Brabham shared that her situation was unique because most of the money she’s expected to pay back were from scholarships and grants rather than federal loans, according to Bradham.

In order to continue their education; Brabham, Guerdan and Roberts all became students at FIT to receive financial aid for their current semester.

“FIT did that for us,” Roberts said, “So all three of us are now students at FIT. Which brings us to the fact, like, will we be able to graduate from Buffalo State? We all have holds on our accounts, so we will probably not be able to graduate unless somebody does something about this.”

Buffalo State’s website also states that: “Only federally funded financial aid will be available from Buffalo State for the time of study at the host campus. All other aid would come from the host campus.”

Guerdam stated that they wouldn’t have went if they weren’t approved by Buffalo State and the Financial Aid Office first.

Me being a fifth-year student, I was kind of weary of if I could go on this trip. Because I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to, if I only had like three credits,” Roberts said.

“None of us would have gone on this trip. I would have stayed at Buff State,” O’Shei said.

Brabham said that United Student Government has been helpful, especially USG President Monique Maxwell.

“I heard about it from social media,” Maxwell said, “An executive coworker of mine showed me the Facebook post one of the girls made to get the word out and we reached out to them.”

Maxwell gathered statements and video to share with faculty on the student’s behalf.

“Our Rules and Regulation Chair Joe Cicatello obtained a video of the students explaining their situation. We plan on showing it at the president’s forum,”  Maxwell said. “The president’s forum is on March 20 and is an opportunity for the student body to communicate to Katherine Conway Turner and her cabinet. We plan on presenting their case there.”

Maxwell said she wants to see justice, and for the situation to be resolved.

“They shouldn’t have to worry about that $9,000 bill. Things like this, they get swept under the rug all the time,” said Maxwell.

Guerdam explained how her financial situation is different because she can graduate from Buffalo State.

“I had finished all my requirements for graduation, so they have already begun to send most of my stuff to collections. So I might already be in a nosedive with my credit,” Guerdam said.

None of the students have found success contacting Buffalo State faculty.

“We can not get in contact with anyone at Buff State to help us,” O’Shei said, “We’ve tried contacting the dean of students, we’ve tried contacting Connie Cooke, tried Dr. Boorady, we’ve tried contacting the president. Nobody is doing anything to help us.”

“Financial aid said that they briefed everyone on the situation last semester, but I just spoke to Student Accounts, they had no what was going on,” Bradham said, “They were told that we were pre-approved for finances, but the amount we were given was less than what it costs to cover our trip here to FIT… That’s not the truth.”

O’Shei said that with all four studying in New York City, it’s difficult to meet with Buffalo State. She said that every time they set an appointment, there’s always something that postpones or cancels the meeting. Brabham was in contact with Financial Aid Director Connie Cooke via email when Cooke refused to continue the conversation.

“I have you with a comprehensive overview regarding this matter,” Cooke stated in an email to Brabham, “May this email serve as my final statement on this matter regarding your fall 2017 outstanding bill.”

“It’s not like we haven’t tried to work with these people,” Guerdan said, “I’ve tried to work something out with them… but they won’t even talk to us”

When the Financial Aid Office was contacted to make a statement regarding this story, James Mayrose, the interim CIO and vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications, released a statement.

“The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) prohibits the college from commenting on or disclosing details of an individual student’s personal academic or financial records.  However, I can tell you that we are aware of the unfortunate circumstances facing a small group of students participating in the Buffalo State/FIT 3/1 program. The college has and will continue to work closely with FIT to offer appropriate solutions. In addition, I continue to reach out to impacted students personally to discuss steps toward a positive resolution,” Mayrose wrote.

The students said that even though they’re in this situation, they still love Buffalo State.

“It’s very disheartening,” Guerdan said, “We have a lot of love for Buff State and it’s such a sad thing to go against something that we care so much about.”

“They approved us for a program that we should have never been approved on and now we have to pay the price that we can not afford,” O’Shei said, “Somebody listen, somebody help us, somebody do something.”

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