SFS reaches out to address student concerns


Santiago Covarrubias

Cynthia Grunden, assistant vice president of Student Financial Services, said she encourages students to reach out to their state-level elected officials to solve the Monetary Award Program grant funding issues.

By Campus Reporter

While students wait for Illinois government to fund delayed Monetary Award Program grants, Columbia’s office of Student Financial Services is readying new financial advising services to help students cope. 

Students met with members of SFS to discuss MAP grants and other financial topics at an April 19 forum.

Cynthia Grunden, assistant vice president of SFS, confirmed that Columbia has provided $7 million to cover MAP grants for the 2015–2016 academic year, as reported April 4 by The Chronicle, but said the college will be unable to provide funding for the grants in future academic years. 

As noted on Page 3, Illinois legislature passed a bill April 22 that would provide approximately $170 million for MAP grant funding statewide. However, it is yet to be known how the funding could affect Columbia.

Grunden encouraged students to contact their elected officials to push for a solution to the MAP grant-funding problem. Columbia’s Student Government Association, which sponsored the forum, recently attended the annual Illinois Lobby Day on April 20 to advocate for MAP grant funding from the state.

“We are going to try to make [figuring out MAP grant funding] as easy as we can,” Grunden said. “It’s painful either way, but it’s money students should get from the state.”

Grunden said SFS introduced automated payment plans in the fall of 2015 to make it easier for students to pay tuition and reduce their likelihood of receiving a financial hold.

Pearl Natali, SFS director of Outreach Education & Financial Planning, said the SFS office plans to offer students video chats with SFS consultants by the end of the Spring 2016 Semester.

Flor Carabez, a consultant of Outreach and Education for SFS, informed students of American Student Assistance’s nonprofit SALT program, which aids students in managing their finances by providing information on loan repayment, rent or mortgage payment and ideal careers.

Christine Tvedt, manager of Outreach and Education for SFS, told students about the Federal Work Study position of peer coaches within the SALT program. She said peer-coaching opportunities will be available beginning in the Fall 2016 Semester, or as early as Summer 2016. Tvedt said SFS is looking for up to three students to be ambassadors for SALT to promote a stronger understanding of financial issues among students. 

“Students would be going to student groups, [and serving as] orientation leaders and RAs,” she said of the position. “[They would be] trying to team up and spread the word about financial literacy, money management and other resources that SALT provides.”

Natali said a partnership between the peer coaches and professional staff trained in financial services would create a support system because the SFS staff would provide an administrative counseling perspective, and students would offer support to visit SFS to foster financial literacy. 

 “[The positions] each have their own specific role and contribution to the overall success of how we reach and encourage students,” Natali said. 

Natali added that the forums and peer coaching opportunities will be another resource for financial information for students, which could help with retention and graduation rates.

Tvedt said the SFS vinyl mural contest—a component of SFS outreach—garnered seven entries in its first year, and the members of the office plan to make a decision by May 1. 

She said the mural will be a printed piece on vinyl material that will be placed in the SFS office’s lobby, located on the third floor of the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave. Tvedt added that winners will receive a $750 stipend for their work.

Natali said even amidst the state’s lack of MAP funding, financial literacy has been a constant effort in the Office of SFS.

Kevin Gomez, a junior photography major and SGA senator for the photography department, said he appreciates Columbia’s efforts to provide MAP grants for the 2015–2016 academic year and also acknowledged his stress from the funding shortage.

“That is money I was putting toward my education,” Gomez said. “Now I have to see where things go and hopefully advocate for myself and my fellow students.”

Frita Beauchamp, a freshman journalism major and SGA senator for the journalism program, said  she thinks SALT is  a good resource for external scholarships from agencies outside the college.

Luther Hughes, SGA president and a senior creative writing major, said he found the forum to be informative because students are more receptive to information coming from their peers.