Several students who rely on OU’s Invest in Success Award have been told the university intends to make changes to the program, placing recipients at financial risk.
University money coaches have indicated the university will potentially alter the program so that recipients would be unable to receive the award as part of their scholarship, loan and award refunds — which many students use to help pay for living expenses.
OU students who receive the award said they used the money from the financial award refund to pay for off-campus housing and other living expenses, and have had their financial plans for next semester thrown into disarray. Students who receive the awards are required to meet with OU money coaches, who first began to warn them of these impending changes.
LGBTQ studies junior Sawyer Stephenson said the students who will be most affected by the change will be low income students.
“I’m at risk of being homeless,” Stephenson said. “Most of the students who are in the scholarship program are low income. A lot of us are 100 percent independent and paying for everything. We’re going to be at risk of homelessness, food insecurity, health care or having to drop out.”
Stephenson and Javi Ramirez, a human relations and women’s and gender studies junior, both said they were told the changes were being considered in March, but were told May 3 that the changes were likely to be implemented. Ramirez works three jobs on campus in order to ensure he can continue attending OU.
“I was told the only way students could get (the award) is if they did not receive a refund check,” Ramirez said. “I would basically be going from about $20,000 in scholarships to $15,000.”
University spokesperson Lauren Brookey said the program was changing as the award was meant to focus on “university-related” expenses only.
“The OU program designed to fill the gap for students for university-related expenses,” Brookey said. “The program is designed to assist students in staying in college. The program, effective fall 2019, will not cover costs unrelated to university expenses.”
One recipient, vocal performance junior Sarah Spurlin, said she wasn’t informed of the potential changes until April 29. Spurlin said in the past, she has used the refund to pay for a variety of vital living expenses while also working at the university and full time as a student.
“I’ve used it for rent, school supplies, to fix my car, to eat — I was going to use it for grad school applications next year,” Spurlin said. “I just have no idea how my financials are going to be working for the next year.”
Spurlin and Stephenson were both told by money coaches that the changes were being made as cost-saving measures. Spurlin was also told by her money coach that the policy looked “sketchy” in the audit.
“The school is trying to cut corners wherever they can,” Spurlin said. “They’re not looking at the people in this case.”
Stephenson said the university doesn’t listen to low income students and therefore doesn’t truly understand the effect of this change.
“I don’t think they considered the impact at all,” Stephenson said. “They have absolutely no understanding of what it’s like to be low income. I don’t think they considered us at all.”