"Our Students Need Our Support and Our Voices More Than Ever"

August 16, 2016

By Alan Byrd, Jr., co-chair of St. Louis Graduates and dean of enrollment at the University of Missouri-St. Louis

NCAN members work with students every day whose unwavering aspirations, dedication and perseverance in achieving their educational dreams illustrates the need for federal financial aid policies that concentrate resources where they are needed most. St. Louis Graduates is one such member. (Read more stories like theirs here.)

To ensure financial aid gets to the students like Byrd's who need it most, NCAN recommends three immediate policy improvements for the new president and Congress: #FixFAFSA, keep the promise of the Pell Grant program, and provide work opportunities to low-income students.

The transition from high school to college is still a daunting journey for many first-generation, low-income students. At the St. Louis Graduates High School to College Center, we saw the impact of increasingly large financial aid gaps for students first-hand this summer.

St. Louis Graduates had 245 students visit our drop-in center to finalize their college plans for fall 2016. Many of these students went through the complex process of applying for financial aid and overcoming the verification process – only to fall short at the end. Our counselors and financial aid advisors found themselves delivering bad news on a daily basis to students and parents by informing them that their college choices were not an affordable option.

For example, a young lady who visited the center in the last week of July was the valedictorian of her high school class. She received a $20,000 scholarship at a small private institution out of state. Although she received a very generous financial aid package from the institution, she and her parents had an out-of-pocket expense of nearly $4,000 per semester for 2016-17. Her parents could not afford to pay the remaining balance after she had borrowed the maximum available to her in student loans, so they visited the center to explore other options.  

Unfortunately, the student had to give up on her dream school for a more affordable option. This is a common occurrence for low-income students dealing with large gaps of unmet need. Unmet need forces students to attend less expensive and less selective institutions, and/or enroll part-time instead of full-time. Fortunately, in this case, the student found an affordable option in a local institution. But too often students end up settling for colleges or arrangements – such as taking classes part-time or working full-time – where they are less likely to earn a degree.

There are several ways NCAN members can better support students like this in their transitions to college. The first step is to inform students about the various sources for financial support. Covering the total cost of attendance at four-year colleges and universities requires funding from multiple sources, including federal, state, institutional and private sources. In St. Louis, we have simplified the process of exploring private scholarships and interest-free loans with Scholarship Central.

Second, students would benefit from a simplified verification process for financial aid. At the University of Missouri-St. Louis, we witness a great number of students who have to delay college entry every year because they are not able to get adequate documentation from their parents to complete the verification process.

Third, and most important, we need to advocate for an increase in need-based financial aid. If this summer has taught us anything, it is that gaps in unmet need are growing. As a result, our students need our support and our voices more than ever.

Back to Blog

Leave a Reply:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License