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It's refund time on college campuses

A university student browses an Arabic novel at a bookshop. In the world of college financial aid world, the first couple weeks of class are known as refund time. But not every student spends the leftover money on books and school.

Kai Ryssdal: As college kids go back to school, restaurants and shops around campus are getting a boost. But not all the money that's being spent comes from students' summer paychecks -- or their parents' pocketbooks, for that matter.

In the world of college financial aid world, the first couple weeks of class are known as refund time. Marketplace's Eve Troeh explains.


Eve Troeh: Pierce College is a public, two-year school in suburban Los Angeles.

Anafe Robinson: We are definitely known for our nursing program. We also have a lot of students who transfer to four-year universities.

Anafe Robinson is financial aid director. Right now, students call her office every day, asking one question:

Robinson: Pretty much: 'When do I get my money?' That's the phrase that we receive all the time. 'When do I get my money?'

They mean their so-called refund from federal student aid. About half of Pierce's 15,000 full-time students get Pell Grants, and many also take government loans. The school takes its share for tuition -- at Pierce less than $600 a semester.

The rest goes directly to the student. Often thousands of dollars. What's it for?

Robinson: Room and board, books and supplies, transportation and miscellaneous expenses.

Robinson says it's clear that money is to help with education, though students can spend it however they want: a new stereo, video games, clothes. Some then show up distraught, out of funds by semester's end. I may have been guilty of this myself...

But the real problem isn't how students spend the money, it's that financial aid offers are confusing, says Lauren Asher at the Project on Student Debt.

Lauren Asher: It's not always clear in that letter what is a loan, what is a grant. Students might not see that they have a choice whether to borrow some or all or none of that amount.

Asher says most financial aid students don't get enough help. They wind up working full-time, or enrolling in college part-time to save money. Both up the chances that a student won't ever finish a degree. And that, she says, is the real waste.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.


Ryssdal: Tell us what you spent your refund check on -- if you got one -- on Facebook or on Twitter @MarketplaceAPM.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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So i am looking at these refunds, but can i withdraw and then get a refund? I read that the funds for for outstanding debts? is this true?
Federal regulations require Title IV aid to be refunded in the following order:

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loans
Federal Direct Subsidized Stafford Loans
Federal Perkins Loans
Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loans
Federal Direct PLUS Loans (for parents)
Federal Pell Grants
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
Federal TEACH Grant
Iraq & Afghanistan Service Grants

For grants, the law provides that you return 50% of any grant you receive requiring repayment. Any amount you do have to return is a grant overpayment, and you must arrange with UF or the U.S. Department of Education to return the funds.

"Financial aid offers are confusing"? "It's not always clear in that letter what is a loan, what is a grant"? Seriously? It's called READING. You have to read the letter. Sorry the letter doesn't come with graphics to draw you a picture of what they're offering you. Yes, a whole page or two of UNILLUSTRATED, UNBROKEN text! You might just have to sit down and take 3 minutes to read it and understand it. Yet another example of how we spoon-feed our children. Please wake me up when the Helicopter Generation is over with.

We bought and restored a 100-year-old Victorian house that had been a student rental for 30 years with our refund checks.

Obviously, I did learn a big lesson from that experience.

About 30 years ago, my then boyfriend stole my college grant/refund money from my account. He took (stole) my ATM card, & unfortunately, I trusted him & he knew my password. Obviously, I did learn a big lesson from that experience.

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