Bureaucracy in Action

Having served in the Army for 8 years, as well as having been in college for 14+ years, I am no stranger to bureaucracy. I could tell you some great stories about the ineptitude of bureaucratic institution, and the difficulties in an individual dealing with “the man.” Instead, why not make it an ongoing blog topic?

So today I went to talk to various people (well entrenched in a bureaucratic hierarchy) about my financial situation at LSU. This is my fifth year at LSU, and I have been paying for school with a teaching assistantship the last four years, but am no longer under contract.  I was originally going to sign up as a full-time student (9 hours as a graduate), but was forced to drop to part time when I found out that full-time status will cost me over $7,000. The cost of 3 hours is roughly $1,400.

A few days ago, I began the process of applying for financial aid. My girlfriend had applied, and received her money within a matter of days, one of the rare times bureaucracy has worked smoothly. I, on the other hand, was asked to submit three different forms that I would have to print, fill out, attach required paperwork, and turn in to the financial aid office (bureaucracy in action #1).

As I filled out the forms, I received a second email explaining that in order to receive financial aid, I would have to have a minimum of 5 hours as a graduate student, something that was never asked of me when I filled out the gigantic form (30+ minutes) to apply in the first place (bureaucracy in action #2).

I first went to speak to the director of graduate studies in the school of music. She is a very sweet lady who always goes out of her way to help me out. Since I have to speak to her about adding hours to research anyway (bureaucracy in action #3), I thought she might be able to guide me toward a correct course of action. It was she who showed me the fees chart on the website. I will reprint it here for your benefit. I am a nonresident, so totals are the final column on the right.

Notice the rise in cost from 3 hours ($1,492) to 4 ($4,034). That is a 270% increase! What kind of curve is that? More on this in a moment.

Because of my years in the military, I have gotten the GI bill on and off for the last few years, and still have about 4.5 months of time left. Because I am not full time, the benefits can be prorated beyond the 4.5 months. The director mentioned that I should talk to the Veterans Affairs officer on campus to see how much of my increased tuition and fees the GI Bill would pay for. The head of Veterans Affairs at LSU is also a very sweet woman, who always has an open door and will go out of her way to help a student. She discovered that I had yet to be certified for the GI Bill, and that my tuition and fees credit was actually a mistake (bureaucracy in action #4)!

When I asked her how long my GI bill could be stretched, and how much of my tuition and fees would be covered (in the fall as well as the spring), she could not answer (bureaucracy in action #5). She informed me that it was up to the Veterans Administration, and that she had no idea what chart or curve they used to determine the prorating (bureaucracy in action #6).

So to summarize, the only way I can receive financial aid is to bump up to 5 hours, a 270% increase of tuition and fees, without even knowing what kind of financial aid I can be awarded! The Veterans Administration may pay my tuition, but no one knows what percentage, or how long it can be stretched (potentially screwing me in the spring). So in other words, I can either step out of the frying pan and into the fire, or wait to be boiled a slow painful death.

I really think that the 270% increase is because the school knows that we need 5 hours for financial aid, and that the extra cost will be covered by the government. The government doesn’t care that the school is fleecing them, because ultimately the cost, with added interest, will be passed on to me, the individual.

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