Darton Financial Aid error sparks anxiety for graduating students

Darton Financial Aid error sparks anxiety for graduating students

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Just weeks away from graduation, some Darton College students received letters saying they can walk in the ceremony but won't get diplomas unless they pay off surprise debts.

And the college is giving students four months to do so.

They said that they just found out about the money they owe because of mistakes made by the financial aid office.

The students said the entire situation has been a nightmare.

"Every semester the bill has been paid, there's never been and issue. Now all of a sudden they are saying we had no problem taking all of your money for tuition, fees, this that and the other but we're not going to give you that diploma that you worked so hard to earn. And we aren't going to give you those transcripts that you need," said a Darton College nursing student.

They thought they were set to graduate, with diplomas and transcripts in just a few weeks.

But now they said that they must pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars because of the college's mistake.

The nursing students don't want to show their faces because they said they're worried Darton State College will punish them for speaking out.

They're supposed to graduate on December 9th and are frustrated and panicking after receiving an email last week.

"We received emails that there was a mistake within the financial office at Darton and they had not pro-rated our financial aid packages the way they were supposed to, therefore we all owed balances," explained the nursing student.

Those balances stretch from $700 to $1,700.

"We're hard working students, we are poor," said another nursing student.

The letter states that they will be allowed to walk at graduation and receive one copy of their transcript, but won't get any more copies or a diploma unless their debt is paid off by March 1.

They must also sign a "letter of intent" by November 25.

For some students it won't allow them to continue onto their bachelor's degree at other universities, like Georgia Southwestern.

"I was told by the financial office yesterday that I had two options. I could take that one transcript they are willing to give me and use it for GSW or I could take that one transcript and use it for boards," explained the first nursing student.

She said that she needs the transcript to be able to take her boards to get a job to pay the debt and needs another to continue her education.

"It's a catch 22. You can get your license and no work or try to get work but you can't get work without a license," said a third nursing student.

Darton Financial Aid officials have not returned WALB's calls this week but they did speak out at a meeting last Wednesday.

The students understand that it's federal money and they have to pay it, but they claim they need more than four months.

"I think it's their mistake, they should absorb it. The fact that we have to pay it back, I'm not against it so much, but the fact is they should give us more time," explained the second nursing student.

The students said they have tried calling the financial aid director to sort things out but have not been able to get in touch with her.

They just said that they want to be able to find a better solution before they have to sign the letters of intent.

One week ago from Wednesday, WALB was there as Darton Financial Aid Director Stephanie Lawrence held an open meeting about the problem.

She said some of the issues came from a paper record-keeping system that caused long lines and other problems.

The college has since gone fully digital to address the records issue and customer service.

Officials also said that ongoing audits and high turnover have put stress on the staff.

They also said that they will work with students on a case by case basis.

Copyright 2016 WALB. All rights reserved.