Saturday, December 3, 2016

Did Maura Take Off With More Money Than We Thought?

Here's a comment that came in today from a reader who works with financial aide:

I'm a university academic advisor with expertise in financial aid, so I wanted to offer some insight on this.

At a school like UMass, most students receive the following types of financial aid:
-- scholarships
-- Pell Grant
-- Direct Loans
-- PLUS Loan

Direct Loans are fairly small ($3,750 per semester for juniors/seniors), but the PLUS Loan exists to supplement whatever is not covered by the other forms of financial aid. The PLUS Loan can also provide a substantial refund (often around $4,000+) to be used for books, supplies, and other expenses.

The PLUS Loan is always in the parent's name, and the PLUS Loan refund always goes to the parent unless the parent authorizes the school's financial aid office to issue the refund directly to the student. Some parents use private loans (such as Sallie Mae) instead of the PLUS Loan, but usually the PLUS Loan has a lower interest rate.

HERE'S THE IMPORTANT THING: Maura went missing around the exact time she would have gotten her spring semester refund check. If you look at UMass academic calendar for spring 2017, for example, you'll see that classes start on January 23, and the last day to drop or add classes is February 6. Financial aid disburses after the last day to drop or add classes, and students receive refunds approximately one week after the last day to drop or add classes -- putting it squarely on February 13.

If Maura was indeed planning to disappear, she may have been waiting to receive her financial aid refund check. She could have picked it up, cashed it, and left town.

Universities cannot release any information related to student financial records because of FERPA. They can't even release information to parents unless the student signs a consent form, but they would of course release information to law enforcement if warranted.