Strain On College Financial Aid With More People In Poverty

on Thursday, Sep. 15th

The recent Census Bureau data on poverty is staggering: the number of people living below 50 percent of the poverty level is the highest it’s been since 1975, according to Mother Jones. President Obama and presidential candidates are putting jobs plans at the top of their lists to respond to this crisis.

One sector that noticed the increase in people affected by poverty is college financial aid. We spoke with Peter Coe, Financial Aid Specialist at City College of San Francisco, whose job only gets harder when people don’t have enough money.

Students applying for aid complete the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) and are allocated funds based on this document. Parents usually document their previous year’s income on their financial aid application. “I’ve definitely seen more application changes based on loss of income than in the past,” said Coe. If a parent or guardian has lost a job, then the student might be eligible for more financial aid.

Making these changes takes time. Coe said he sits down with each student individually to work through the documentation. “With this many people out of work it’s definitely a challenge to serve students,” said Coe. “It’s impacting the office… When there’s more work, there’s delays in getting money out, and the quality of service goes down,” said Coe.

A huge indicator of more financial need for Coe is the number of Pell Grants awarded every year. The Pell Grant is a federal grant of $5,500 that does not need to be repaid. It is based on financial need, the cost of attending school, and your status as a student. The more Pell awards the school gives out, means the more students are eligible for aid. Coe said the number of Pell Grants he’s awarded has increased dramatically over the last three years. “We’re approaching 11,000 Pell awards, that’s a 3,000 plus jump from the previous school year,” said Coe.

In addition to parents losing income, Coe said he sees many students losing their jobs as well, and therefore making more appeals for aid. What happens if there’s no more aid available? “Student retention is always an issue with financial aid.  Of course students need to drop out all the time – financial aid – that’s always a piece of the equation,” said Coe.

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