Business administration senior Sierra Kennedy wants to be an Arizona resident. But, until recently, a long road of administrative hurdles has kept the Pennsylvania native from achieving that status.
Kennedy is one of many students bewildered by the classification process that determines whether a student will be charged in-state or out-of-state tuition. Students say complicated and seemingly-unfair standards have left them scrambling to pay for their classes.
Kennedy said that she was told by the Residency Office that because her parents were on her Free Application for Federal Student Aid and they were taking out a Parent Plus loan, she was unable to be considered a resident, since that is not adequate proof of ""independence.""
When Kennedy inquired how to remove her parents from her forms, the Residency Office replied that she would have to prove that she has no contact with her parents for a year or get married.
Kennedy is financially independent and pays Arizona taxes, but she is still not considered an in-state student.
""Since I only have $3,000 in loans to go to school and an out-of-state tuition, I can only take one class,"" she said. ""I could have graduated earlier if I took more classes this semester. In my head, I got screwed.""
Kennedy got married last month, and is now considered ""independent."" As a result, her parents will now be removed from her FAFSA. She submitted a new FAFSA for the spring but said she has not heard back from Financial Aid.
Adding to the confusion, Kennedy said is considered an in-state student by Pima Community College standards, but not by the standards of the UA.
John Nametz, Financial Aid director, said, ""It is not uncommon to have UA students be considered in-state residents at Pima, but out-of-state residents at the UA.""
He explained that proving residency is a different, and usually easier, process at a community college than at a state university.
The most difficult part of getting in-state tuition is being self-supporting for two years prior to the semester you are applying for, Nametz said.
""So let's say someone is starting school during fall 2010, that person needs to prove financial independence for both 2008 and 2009,"" he said.
These constraints have posed difficulties for some students.
2008 alumnus Sean Feldman, an Illinois native, said that the ""process for obtaining a shot at receiving an in-state status was long and brutal.""
Feldman said that his parents' names were on his FAFSA, but that did not immediately disqualify him from receiving in-state tuition.
Filing the FAFSA independently is a different process than filing independently for in-state tuition, he said. ""It is true that you must include your parents' financial information on the FAFSA until you qualify as independent in the eyes of the government.""
Feldman said the first step was to file with the admissions department as an in-state student.
Since his parents were not assisting him with payments or tuition, he applied independently.
""They basically give you a list of criteria and information you need to bring in to prove that you have been residing independently in the state of Arizona,"" he said.
Among the criteria are two years worth of bank statements, an Arizona voter registration, pay stubs for jobs held in Arizona, a driver's license and state ID, Arizona vehicle registration, insurance and tax return forms for at least two years filed in Arizona.
After collecting this information, Feldman said he was required to meet with a head of the financial aid department.
""Believe me when I say that this school will do or find anything to not give you the benefit of in-state status,"" Feldman said of his experience.
The first time he met with a financial aid representative he was denied in-state status.
Feldman said he was denied because his statements didn't display sufficient activity to prove that he was living independently.
Feldman explained that he had another checking account, in Ill., from which he was withdrawing to help pay for school.
""This almost blew it for me because once he saw this other account in a different state, he questioned how I was depositing into it, and how often I leave to state to go back home,"" he said. ""Somehow, I talked my way out of it, and once I finally brought in those statements showing transactions mainly from the UA, he finally signed off on my status.""