Tag: community college financial aid

iStock_000005608156XSM_momgirlEducationGrant often hears from single moms who are looking for ideas about going back to school and the financial aid that can help them accomplish this goal. It’s inspiring to see how many single moms are determined to get the higher education they need to create a better quality of life for their families!

Single moms have many factors to balance when it comes to going back to school: scheduling, child care, transportation, time management, college tuition and fees, money for schoolbooks, and keeping children fed, clean, and rested while mothers work, study, or both. (Not sure how they do it all!) It won’t come as a surprise to any single mother that money, or the lack of it, is the biggest worry that most single moms deal with every day. So going back to school can feel like a Catch-22. To earn more money and make your family financially stable, it helps to have a quality college degree. But to get the college degree, you need money.

Even still, finding financial aid isn’t always the first necessity in ideas for single moms going back to school. Another important goal, especially in this bleak economy, is to NOT end up with a lifelong mountain of student loan debt after you’ve graduated.

Are you determined to get your college degree? Here are some ideas on how to get started:

1) Choose a realistic education goal. Are you going back to school so you can qualify for a particular job or change your career? What’s the average pay for the new career? (How about the pay for an entry-level worker?!) Will this industry still need workers once you’ve graduated?

2) Comparison-shop for the best accredited school and program for your needs. When considering schools, keep these factors in mind:

  • Where is the school? Can you get to its campus easily by public transportation if you don’t have a car? How long is your commute?
  • How much time on campus will the program require? Will you be able to get child care to cover the time you want to devote to your classes and schoolwork? (Besides federal financial aid, look for grants and scholarships that provide funding for child care and other living expenses.)
  • Would an accredited online program work better for you?
  • Is there an admissions representative at the school that can tell you about the program and what it will require from you?
  • How much does the program cost? What fees are there in addition to tuition?
  • Is there a financial aid officer who can walk you through the financial aid process? Does the school have education grants for single moms? (If not, maybe consider a different school.)

3) Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

  • This application opens the door to all federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants and low-cost student loans, as well as single mom education grants from individual schools and states.
  • Federal and state financial aid can be used for any accredited higher education program registered with the U.S. Department of Education as a “Title IV” school. These include community colleges, state universities, and online programs in addition to traditional 4-year schools.
  • You don’t need to be accepted or enrolled in a school before you submit your FAFSA. All you have to do is list the school(s) you’ve applied to. You’ll get a report back that tells you how much money you’ll be expected to contribute to your degree costs, and the school(s) will use that number to determine how much financial aid they can offer you. If you qualify for a Pell Grant, you’ll get one automatically.

4) Consider choosing the school that will allow you to graduate with the least amount of debt.

Single mothers do it all, and both the news and personal family histories are filled with countless stories of single moms whose children remember and honor them as role models and heroes. A college degree may be your ticket to the quality of life you want your children to have, but only if it doesn’t leave you worse off financially than you were before.

For more college planning details, see the earlier blog-post, How to Prepare for the FAFSA: 3 Pre-FAFSA Steps. You can also find more information about the FAFSA, scholarships for single moms, scholarships for women, adult learning scholarships, and low-cost student loans in earlier blog posts and the grants, loans, and scholarship pages in this site.

And if you have other tips and ideas for single moms going back to school, please share them here in the comments. The very best advisors for single moms are… other single moms!

Check out Grants for Single Mothers too!

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iStock_000000696495XSM_moneyrollNews stories this week reported that contributions from wealthy donors will result in new college grants and loans for students in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia. The money probably won’t be available until next year, but the opening bell for the 2010 FAFSA is only 6 weeks away, anyway.

One happy recipient of a generous financial aid donation is the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. The Charles E. Schell Foundation awarded the University a $100,000 grant to be used for interest-free student loans. To be eligible, college students will need to be citizens of Ohio, Kentucky, or West Virginia (or some unspecified adjoining states), between the ages of 18 and 25, with a minimum 2.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale.

A little research on the Charles E. Schell Foundation shows that the Foundation has awarded many such grants to dozens of schools in the region, including Ivy Tech Community College, Midway College, Union College, Denison University, Oakland University, University of Evansville, and Shawnee State, to name just a few. If you’re a college student in this part of the country, you should check with your financial aid office about whether your school may have the same interest-free loan program. Clearly, the Charles E. Schell Foundation is a generous supporter of higher education.

And numerous news publications reported a new $200 million grant from investment bank Goldman Sachs to provide scholarships for business students at community colleges. The first school to get money for scholarships will be La Guardia Community College in Queens, New York, but the plan is to roll out business education scholarships to other local community colleges as well. Goldman Sachs also apologized for its contribution to the collapse of the economy a year ago, but said that the apology and its new scholarship program were not necessarily related. But The New York Times could not resist mentioning that Rolling Stone Magazine has referred to Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” so now, regretfully, I can’t resist either. The scholarships are a good idea, though.

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Nontraditional students often attend community college, which has the flexibility and affordability that work best for adult learners. There are almost 12 million fulltime and part-time nontraditional students from all walks of life pursuing degrees, professional certificates, and lifelong learning at community colleges from one end of the country to the other.

Nontraditional Students Depend on the Lower Tuition of Community College

The relatively low cost of community college is a tremendous benefit for nontraditional students, many of whom may be single parents, workers in lower-paying jobs, newly laid-off workers, or the first in their family to attend college. Despite some tuition increases, a recent College Board financial aid report noted that tuition and fees for an average community college are still only about 36% of the tuition and fees of an average four-year college.

Federal Student Loans for Community College: A Problem Revealed

iStock_000002122541XSmallSince community colleges provide a substantial higher education service to nontraditional students, you may be surprised to learn that many community colleges don’t offer their students federal student loans. That’s the discovery of the Project on Student Debt, who reported last month that approximately 900,000 community college students in 31 states could not get federal Stafford, Perkins, and PLUS loans because their schools chose not to participate in the federal loan program. (Download a copy of the user-friendly report here.)

The main reason seems to be the schools’ earlier bad experience with the consequences of high student loan default rates. In the 1990s, schools with very high default rates were penalized by being shut out of ALL of federal financial aid programs, including the invaluable Pell Grants that so many nontraditional students depend on. After a few close calls with losing their Pell Grants, those schools developed a little bit of paranoia about offering any more federal student loans.

The good news is that loan default rates have improved a lot since then and no community college has lost access to Pell Grants in many years. The bad news is that old fears die hard and today, thousands of nontraditional students end up having to take out private loans to cover the last of their community college costs when they can’t get Stafford, Perkins, or PLUS loans.

Private loans typically have higher interest rates, more borrower fees, and less protection than federal loans, and can turn into unmanageable debt for the students who can least afford it.

How to Find Out If Your Community College Offers Federal Student Loans

What can you do if you think you may need a student loan for community college? Before you apply, call the financial aid office of the community college(s) you’re considering and ask if they participate in the federal student loan program (Title IV). Be sure to ask specifically about loans (Stafford, Perkins, and PLUS loans), not just the financial aid program in general. (All eligible colleges participate in the federal grants program, but apparently they don’t all participate in the student loan program.)

If it turns out that the community college you were considering does not provide federal student loans, you may want to talk to other community colleges in your area until you find one that does. Community colleges fulfill a vital mission in the higher education service they provide to nontraditional students. Making federal student loans available to students who need them should be part of that mission.

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