One day last year I skipped school to wait for acceptances from colleges. It was the final day that letters or e-mails were supposed to be sent out.
I sat in front of my laptop by the front door for at least three hours, listening for the mailman while eagerly pressing the refresh button on my inbox. I admit, at one point, I checked my neighbor’s mail. Getting my house skipped on the mail route was one of the less crazy hypotheticals I imagined while waiting.
The college responses I had already received were pinned up on a cork board in the hallway so everyone in my family would pass by them on the way to the bathroom.
After my 300th click I finally got it; my rejection e-mail. It was just 2 paragraphs: we’re very sorry, such-and-such many applicants, etc. etc. Sure, I was upset. But, I thought, at least I still have the other schools on that corkboard.
A few weeks later, I got my federal financial aid notice or FAFSA. It estimates what your family can pay for college, and how much federal aid you can get. I knew the minute I saw those little black numbers it wouldn’t be enough. My mom was still paying off her college loans and I had already spent more than I could afford on high school transcripts, applications, and the ACT test. Tuition at my top school was 30 thousand dollars a year and I was going to be on the hook for two-thirds of it.
The same night I got my FAFSA, I got an e-mail from a college site I subscribed to. The subject line read: “Can you Really Afford College?” For the first time, I was seeing the price tag of my dream and realizing it was way out of my budget.
I had spent months telling my friends about my plans for the next school year: Journalism and Anthropology classes on the East Coast, taking the subway, and going to poetry readings. That all changed after the financial aid letters. Now I’m attending community college, working two jobs and I’m still trying to figure out next year, and how much debt my college dreams are worth.
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Robyn Gee 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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