The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 23, 2013

Free tuition info runs you $65

By Joanne Arbogast
The Daily Item

LEWISBURG — Have a child in college or planning to go to college this fall? If so, chances are you recently received an official-looking letter from an organization called the Student Financial Resource Center.

It’s a convincing document, down to the Department of Education-like symbol on its logo and its use of terminology: “You can receive financial aid even if you are not a straight-A student or a top athlete. In fact, most students and parents are unaware of the vast number of merit and need-based financial aid programs ... too many students are under the impression they cannot receive financial aid that does not require repayment, so they do not bother applying at all.”

The Student Financial Resource Center says it can help find “free” money that is “not student loans and do not have to be repaid later” and can be used for tuition, room and board, fees, books, computers and transportation.

How does the Student Financial Resource Center do this? By “saving you time” — the time it would take you to do yourself, which you can easily do.

The Student Financial Resource Center urges you to fill out a student aid profile form providing personal information and send it back ... along with a refundable processing fee of $65.

What do you get for $65?

A “guidebook” with financial aid information, a list of free merit- and need-based financial aid programs and instructions on how to apply to some of them. In other words, you get information you could have gotten for free.

And you will still have to fill out the application forms yourself.

“I have heard of this,” Andrea Leithner-Stauffer, director of the financial aid office at Bucknell University, said of the Student Financial Resource Center.

“We always say contact the school where your student is enrolled or thinking of going to and talk with the financial aid office there.”

Sources for financial aid include high school guidance offices, college financial aid offices and state and federal government agencies. The Student Financial Resource Center even acknowledges that on its website. To gain entry to the web site, you need to provide the profile number included in the letter. Or — surprise, surprise — simply call or email them and a profile number will be provided.

Is the Student Financial Resource Center affiliated with any educational institutions or government agencies?

No.

The Student Financial Resource Center admits it, but you have to look hard for that disclaimer — it’s in fine print on the back of the letter and deep in the website: SFRC is an independent organization and is not affiliated with any educational institutions, government agencies, or funding sources.

The Student Financial Resource Center also states it “can’t guarantee results and has no input into the decision to which applicants will be selected to receive financial aid funds.”

So what exactly does the Student Financial Resource Center provide for the $65 fee that you can’t get yourself? And since the fee is “refundable,” precisely how does one get that money back?

You won’t get answers by calling the Student Financial Resource Center. Answering the phone was a representative named Ray who said he couldn’t answer any questions because he was “just an operator at the message center” and those who could answer questions “were not available.”

Is there a number to call to reach someone who can answer questions?

“The same number you called,” Ray said, but again added that none of those people were available — and he didn’t know when they would be.

“You hear some real horror stories,” Leithner-Stauffer said of people who end up paying a lot of money responding to scams promising financial aid assistance or free scholarships.

The important thing to remember is that students can get information about, and apply for, financial aid and scholarships without spending a dime.