GI Bill users running into issues after Penn West merge

CALIFORNIA, Pa. — It’s been a process for the last two years to merge together three of our local universities: CalU, Clarion and Edinboro.

But in that process, the new university has to get federally accredited to get all the benefits, and with the semester scheduled to start in just days, students are finding out that has not happened yet.

“I’m a former marine. I was on aviation technician active duty for 5 years from 2007 to 2012,” Josh Zurcher told Channel 11.

Josh Zurcher is more than halfway through his electrical engineering program at CalU, but he and other students are now just finding out that federal student assistance applications, like the GI benefits, aren’t currently being processed post merger.

“All my finances are set up under the assumption that I was going to get the housing allowance from the GI bill. I’m enrolled in school I just got a 5500-dollarbill I have no idea how I would pay for,” Zurcher said.

Upon a search by Channel 11, the new university does not come up under the federal database for accredited institutions; therefore, those federal funding programs can’t go through.

“Why is this being held up. I mean this has been held up for a couple years this was run past both the state and federal boards of education so this shouldn’t be a last-minute surprise this is happening,” Zurcher said.

Zurcher told Channel 11 the lack of communication is the most frustrating part. He sent us the email blast from PennWest:

“At this time, we are currently awaiting further guidance from both the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s State Approving Agency as well as the federal Department of Veterans on guidance for certifying your enrollment for fall 2022 at Pennsylvania Western University - California.”

“The options I have is to pay out of pocket in the hope that it’s resolved soon, essentially sit the semester out and withdraw from classes or just hope and pray,” Zurcher said.

When we asked PennWest California about the issues, a spokesperson told us students will be able to use old codes from the former university names to process the benefits.

“Last week we received authorization to approve benefits to our eligible military students. We have begun communicating to them that the upcoming semester will operate just as other semesters have, without any changes related to benefits. If students have questions they should contact their campus veteran services office,” a spokesperson for PennWest California said.

As for other federal financial aid programs, the university is still working with the Department of Education to get those paid and processed on time.

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