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Gee praises millions of dollars dedicated to relief for student financial aid

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee praised the legislature’s passage of an $80 million dollar, one-time allocation for higher education in West Virginia.

Most of the money, $51 million, goes to support financial aid for students in response to problems with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly called FAFSA. The remainder is meant to help colleges offset their insurance costs.

“They really stepped up to try to help universities and colleges recover from this FAFSA event,” Gee said Wednesday on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” FAFSA has been rocked by frustrating delays and technical problems stemming from the rollout of a redesigned form intended to ask fewer questions and include more automated features.

Parents and students across the nation have reported trouble completing the application, resulting in frustrations that have discouraged many from completing the process. Many colleges, in turn, have been delayed in assessing and completing financial aid packages.

“Our applications were very strong, and of course families have been sitting here waiting to find out what their financial aid packages are going to be. And that is what our legislature, what our governor has been able to do — we can now have more certainty,” Gee said.

Gov. Jim Justice last month declared emergency over the problems, streamlining West Virginia’s part of the process. The legislature also passed a resolution this week to extend that emergency declaration.

The dollars allocated this week are meant to frontload West Virginia’s higher education grants to assure financial support for families. The hope is for the state to be reimbursed as federal dollars become available.

“When the federal government put our higher education system into crisis with their mishandling of the FAFSA, I demanded that we pass funding so our kids don’t miss their opportunity to go to college. At the end of the day, again, we won for all our kids in this Great State,” Justice stated following the special session.

West Virginia’s higher education chancellor, Sarah Armstrong Tucker, said she was grateful for passage of the funding. “With this funding, we will be able to get more financial aid to our neediest students so they can stay on track to continue their education and reach their career goals,” Tucker said.

The higher education funding was one of 15 bills passed by lawmakers during a special session that lasted three days.

“We have a lot of small colleges and universities. Imagine if Glenville State, Fairmont State — imagine if 300, 400 kids can’t get the financial aid that they need to start school in August and they just don’t show up — can those institutions even make their payroll?” said Senator Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, speaking today on “Talk of the Town” on WAJR Radio.

Oliverio continued, “What we’re trying to do is put some dollars up to help students who can’t get through the hoops of the current requirements for their scholarships or grants or loans, so that we have some backup money available to get these kids enrolled,” “Then we’re going to make a strong case with the federal government to be reimbursed for the money that we put out to do this.”