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Thursday, November 27, 2014

UNM's broken system needs to be fixed and fully system

Editor,

The freshman experience is usually shared amongst a majority of high school graduates as they come together in the fall.

A select few are forced to enter into the Early Start Program during the summer to complete six credit hours prior to the fall semester. According to President Frank, the ESP was developed for mostly minority students who score abysmally on the ACT.

At the last Board of Regents meeting, a few students addressed the financial aspect of the program. They complained that there was very little financial aid available to the students and many of the students were forced to take out loans to participate in the mandatory program.

They also pointed out that most of the students were from low-income, first-generation families. Terry Babbitt rebutted and told the Regents that almost every student was funded and that UNM reaches out to students in low-income communities. The Regents seemed satisfied by his answer and moved on to other subjects.

The ESP is a good program in concept: It assists students who may be deficient in math or English. Unfortunately, it is an extremely difficult system to navigate and it is expensive.

One young lady was admitted into UNM as long as she completed the ESP. She is the first person in her family to ever be accepted into a four-year university straight out of high school. She is a first-generation Mexican-American from a very low-income family. Her mother passed away when she was 16 years old, but she fought through the pain to graduate. She received an email from the program notifying her that she was accepted and included the program requirements. That was the last time the program ever communicated with her.

She called UNM to get more information, but they told her to wait. She went to her counselor, who told her that she was not familiar with the program. She finally asked her older sister to help her figure out what to do. She took a day off of school and traveled an hour and a half to Albuquerque. She met her sister and they went to the Financial Aid Department, which refused to speak with her because she did not have a school ID.

They left and went to the ID office. The ID Office refused to give her an ID because she hadn’t completed orientation yet. The ESP automatically placed her in the July orientation, but classes started in June. What was she supposed to do? She started school in a little over a week and the financial aid department refused to speak with her. They decided to go to the College Enrichment Program office to get help. The CEP runs the ESP.

The personnel at the CEP told her that they couldn’t do anything and that she would have to pay out of pocket. She would have to take out loans. Eventually they found out that she was receiving a Pell Grant for the summer, but it would be $500 short of the total tuition and fees.

Where would that money come from? On top of all this, her English class was canceled the Friday before classes started and she was told to register in another class.

Unfortunately, orientation holds were placed on her account and she couldn’t register. She had to go to Advisment her first day of classes to have the holds removed and register for a new class. She missed her first day of classes due to a mistake by UNM. This young lady was lucky to have a sister who understood the bureaucratic nightmare of UNM. She was able to navigate the system to get financial aid and register for classes.

What about the other students who are required to take the ESP? How are they supposed to navigate this complex and unfriendly system? How are they supposed to find money to pay for it? The concept of the program is wonderful, but it is not as good as Terry Babbitt insists.

Students do not get fully funded, and many students are discouraged by the bureaucracy and quit. Many families are unfamiliar with the system or do not have time to assist their children. The system must be fixed and fully funded.

John Mitchell

UNM School of Law Student