By doing things right, financial aid helps people make decisions about their lives, said Michael R. DeBose, a senior adviser at the National Council of Credit Unions.
But that’s where mistakes can result.
The problem, he said, is the way colleges and universities are handling financial aid and other financial aid options.
“They’re treating it like it’s an investment account,” Mr. Debose said.
Students can apply for federal aid through their parents, but those applications are subject to review by the federal Education Department, and often go unfulfilled.
The federal agency also requires universities to keep records of their financial aid decisions.
The University of Virginia’s student loan program, for instance, requires students to file a 10-year budget.
But the university said it does not maintain a database of its student loan borrowers.
“The university is unable to determine the amount of the federal student loan funds,” the school said in a statement.
Mr. DeVore said colleges should consider student loan repayment as a form of financial aid.
“It’s a good financial aid tool, but it’s also a tool that can be abused,” he said.
He said that even when schools try to use it as a tool, they sometimes fall short.
“Financial aid has to be used as an asset.
It’s not a tool,” he wrote in an email.
“That’s a big difference between a college and a business that’s used to taking advantage of the market.”
For Mr. Davis, the experience has taught him how colleges are going to treat aid.
The university’s student loans will be forgiven after five years.
But Mr. Davies is still in the process of getting his financial aid application processed, and the university has not provided him with any information about how it is trying to process his application.
He is worried.
“I’m worried about the future of this place,” he told The Associated Press.
“This has to go.”
The AP’s Jennifer Voisard in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Roberta Kaplan in Washington contributed to this report.