Penn State College Student Notified of Ineligibility Two Weeks Before Semester Starts
Young woman who recently lost both parents and has been living in-state with a cousin for more than a year is told she does not qualify for in-state tuition
By: Rachel Higgins
Rachel attended Penn State during her freshman and sophomore years after her dad died and then when tragedy struck again and her mom died unexpectedly. Both parents died from cancer. Rachel was left to take up residency with her closest living relative--a cousin in Pennsylvania (Rachel's family lived in New Jersey up until then.) She moved in with her cousin more than a year ago. Times have been tough for Rachel. Her cousin was able to co-sign student loans for her and she has worked hard while attending school the past two years. For example, last semester she worked at a lab until late at night, studied until midnight and got up at 4 a.m. to start the day all over. And she maintains a 3.5 grade point average and has been on the Dean's list multiple times.
In May of this year and at the required deadline, Rachel applied for in-state tuition. Since she has been a Pennsylvania resident for more than a year living at her cousin's home in Pennsylvania, she wasn't the least bit worried that she wouldn't qualify. However, she received a letter from Penn State denying her in-state tuition and stating that she had lived in state for only 11 months, not the 12 required. They were wrong. Rachel appealed and they told her that, if she could prove 12 months of residency, they would reverse their denial. She sent them copies of her driver's license, vehicle registration, copies of mail with her address, her parents death certificates and a letter from her cousin verifying that she was a resident at his home. All documents proved that she had taken up residency for more than 12 months.
Thinking that everything was in order and that the initial denial was just a mistake and a request for more data, and while awaiting a letter on her appeal Rachel has been gathering items at home and preparing to make the trip to University Park in two weeks to start her junior year. When no additional documentation arrived, she was sure that everything was ok. She called the school to make sure that all of her documentation had been accepted. When she didn't hear back, a friend called and, after more than 10 hours of phone calls, was finally told that Rachel did "not qualify for in-state tuition." A letter arrived in the mail a few days ago stating, "although you are now living in the Commonwealth (Pennsylvania)
Furthermore, they suggested that she "drop out of school for 12 months" to qualify for in-state tuition, and then re-apply. Since she has taken out personal student loans, those would come due after six months of being out of school. With limited resources, Rachel would have to seek additional employment without a college degree. And there's no guarantee she'd be accepted to Penn State on reapplication.
Rachel understands that there are rules; however, the committee initially led her to believe that, as long as she could prove that she lived in Pennsylvania for a year with her cousin, they would accept that. Since that time, they've changed the reasons behind their denials and have now run out the clock so that Rachel has no way of seeking financial assistance through another avenue.
Needless to say, Rachel is crestfallen. With just two weeks to go, she's now been told that she has to either come up with the $17,000 out-of-state tuition for the semester or she cannot attend. Her cousin has co-signed student loans for her in the past but he has now maxed out his credit limit. With in-state tuition, Rachel qualifies for student aid from the federal government. She could have also pursued other avenues for student aid except that Penn State strung her along and then waited until the last minute to notify her. A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help raise the amount needed for the fall tuition. The account is https://www.gofundme.com/