Financial Aid for Community College Students

Business is booming at community colleges. Across the country, students are dropping plans to attend more costly 4-year universities in favor of less expensive 2-year community colleges. Since financial aid is available for community college students through the same federal programs, staying local can be an affordable education alternative.

But here’s a surprise: many community college students don’t realize they can get federal financial aid, so they don’t apply for it. A 2008 Department of Education study found that 39% of community college students mistakenly thought they were not eligible for financial aid and 35% thought they wouldn’t need it. (Six percent said the FAFSA was too much work, but what’s too much work if you can get your community college classes paid for?)

In fact, undergraduate students of all ages can qualify for federal grant programs such as the Pell Grant, even if employed. There is no age restriction on federal financial aid, nor is it limited to programs at a 4-year university.

Here are 5 things to know about financial aid for community college students:

1. You apply by filing a FAFSA.

2. The limit on student or family income is $30,000. If your family’s income (or yours) is under $30,000, you won’t be expected to contribute anything to your community college costs.

3. The income protection allowance has gone up in recent years. That is, if you work in addition to going to school, you may still qualify for significant financial aid, allowing you to keep more of your earnings.

4. The amount of the Pell Grant has gone up. For the 2009-2010 school year (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010), the maximum Pell Grant is $5,350. Pell Grants are for undergraduates only (you can’t already have a bachelor’s degree), and can be used for a range of education-related expenses, not just tuition and fees.

5. If you’ve lost your job this past year, new changes to Department of Labor policies will allow you to hang on to your unemployment benefits even if you’re awarded a Pell Grant. Ask your community college financial aid administrator if your financial circumstances qualify you for this benefit.

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