7 On Your Side Investigates: New Jersey college student denied diploma over financial aid fight

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- A Hudson County Community College student who completed her associate's degree in Culinary Arts among the top of her class said the college denied her a diploma, claiming she owed them money.

"They just said you have $1,000. We need that money and you need to pay it," said Melissa Lopez of Newark, New Jersey.

Lopez showed 7 On Your Side Investigates emails from the school's financial aid office asking her to pay an outstanding balance and suggesting she take out a student loan to pay them back.

"I said that's impossible because I did all of my numbers, did all of my work and there's no way that I would have a balance," Lopez said.

A spokesperson for HCCC explained that a system error had caused the college to give Lopez the wrong amount of financial aid. Jennifer Christopher said seven other students were similarly impacted.

Lopez said she had already spent all of the financial she was given on tuition and no longer had the money.

"Getting something like that out of pocket is really hard to do because I already pay out of pocket for school," Lopez said.

When 7 On Your Side Investigates reached out about the mix-up, Christopher replied in a statement that Lopez's balance had been eliminated.

"Hudson County Community College is committed to serving our students in every way possible as they pursue their educational goals," Christopher added.

Christopher said concerns from seven other students also impacted by the error we also resolved and that HCCC had put new procedures in place to prevent the problem from happening again.

Lopez called it a relief. She didn't owe any money and could pick up the diploma she had earned.

"It definitely felt like a lot of weight had been lifted off of my shoulders," Lopez said.

Now Lopez is on to bigger, better things in the culinary world.

"I want to show people that I'm, well, not like Gordon Ramsey or like Bobby Flay, but just me you know? Have my own name in the world," Lopez said.

DO YOU NEED A STORY INVESTIGATED? Jim Hoffer, Danielle Leigh and the 7 On Your Side Investigates team at Eyewitness News want to hear from you! Call our confidential tip line 1-877-TIP-NEWS (847-6397) or fill out the form BELOW. You can also contact Jim and Danielle directly: Jim Hoffer: Email your questions, issues, or story ideas to 7OnYourSideJim@abc.com Facebook: facebook.com/jimhoffer.wabc Twitter: @NYCinvestigates Danielle Leigh Email your questions, issues, or story ideas to 7OnYourSideDanielle@abc.com Facebook: DanielleLeighJournalist Twttier: @DanielleNLeigh If using the app, click here to send us a news tip
Copyright © 2021 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.