CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS PLAN THEIR FINANCIAL PATH TOWARDS COLLEGE?
At uAspire we work to ensure that all young people have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to, and through, a postsecondary education. Our nonprofit provides assistance to young people and families, offering direct services to thousands of students in school systems in Massachusetts and the San Francisco Bay Area. Through our training partnerships in more than 27 other states, we reach thousands more young people, partnering with local, regional, and national nonprofits; school districts; and charter management organizations.
Our experts have over 20 years of experience advising students and families one on one throughout the financial aid process, as well as supporting and coaching other front-line practitioners in their efforts to support students looking for an affordable path to and through college.
WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?
Over the past 40 years, the cost of college tuition has risen at nearly four times the rate of inflation. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of student borrowers in this country and the size of their loans grew over 70%. These increases are having a disproportionate effect on students from low to moderate income families as federal data shows income gaps have been widening at an accelerated rate since the Great Recession of 2008.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?
Common misconceptions we encounter include understanding sticker price versus net costs (costs after aid is calculated); differences between need-based aid and merit-based aid, as well as other types of aid such as loans and work study; and whose information gets reported on the FAFSA, including topics such as dependency and who is considered a parent.
WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION?
We see choices related to attending public vs. private, living off campus when on campus was preferred, attending part time while working in order to pay for school, taking out additional loans on top of what was offered on their award letters, and not attending at all.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT LOW-INCOME FAMILIES? MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES?
Low-income families may be in less of a position to borrow additional loans or take out tuition payment plans in order to cover costs.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?
When financing an education, students and parents need to know that the costs for college are multiplied by however many years the student will attend. If they are stretching to make one year work, then they should think about how they will meet the costs of the following years. It is a serious commitment, and considering what is feasible for the family regarding long-term debt payback is the first step. Also, students and families should make sure to explore all borrowing options and determine whether federal or private options are better for their current financial circumstances.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?
Take advantage of the ton of information available about college costs. Talk with your family to understand what resources exist to help pay for college, then check out the net price calculators provided by the colleges you are considering, along with College Scorecard data. Look for and apply for scholarships throughout your senior year in high school. Lastly, you won't know if you can't afford to attend until you receive and review an award letter.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE UASPIRE TO PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THE COST OF COLLEGE?
College students face several difficult financial decisions over a short period of time that determine their ability to pay for college and how much debt they will have after they get their degree. Nationwide, up to 20% of high school graduates accepted into college simply “melt away” over the summer and fail to attend college in the fall, it's a phenomenon referred to as “summer melt,” and it disproportionately affects low-income and minority students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Their failure to show up when classes start is often linked to personal and financial issues that surface in the weeks before classes begin, and made worse by their families' lack of experience navigating college bureaucracy.
The percentage of college-intending students that do not make it to college after graduating high school was 21% in Boston; 33% in Providence, Rhode Island; 32% in Philadelphia; 29% in Albuquerque, New Mexico; 28% in Dallas; and 44% in Fort Worth, Texas. That's where uAspire comes in. Every summer our advisers work to support students in various ways, fine-tuning their efforts to meet their individual needs during this critical time.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS YOU SEE THE HIGH SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT'S YOU WORK WITH ARE SUPPORTING STUDENTS APPLYING TO COLLEGE, SPECIFICALLY FINANCIAL AID?
Many high schools that we work with are scheduling time during the senior year to educate their students about the college process. Providing time for this during the school day allows students to plan for different steps and connects them to someone in the school who can check on their status and offer help when needed throughout the application process.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THEM ADOPT?
The financial aid process is much more than filling out and submitting the FAFSA. A key thing we would like to see high schools adopt is reviewing award letters with students. Reviewing award letters will ensure the student has the information to make a financially-informed college decision.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?
Universities have a responsibility to communicate their costs as clearly as possible to the student. It should never be a mystery or be at all confusing to calculate what the upcoming bill will be. Alternative payment options available through the college should be clearly explained to students and families. Also, throughout the application process and each student's education, the financial aid and bursar's offices should be available to answer questions and troubleshoot problems.
WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?
The first step is for students and their parents to talk to each other about college costs so that students understand if they can expect any help from their family. Once that conversation has taken place there are a vast number of resources available to plan for funding higher education. We've listed a few helpful websites below:
We also recommend they look for local scholarships, talk to friends and family who have gone through the process before, and discuss their options with the college they are planning to attend.
Holly MorrowSenior Vice President of Knowledge at uAspire
Holly Morrow is the Senior Vice President of Knowledge. Over her more than 13 years at uAspire, Morrow has managed the quality and delivery of our direct service programming, first in Boston, then across Massachusetts, and most recently the delivery of training and technical assistance offerings to external partners. Throughout her time at uAspire, and in addition to her program leadership responsibilities, Morrow has served as a frontline adviser, navigating the financial aid process with students and families and using this experience to directly inform her broader work. In her current role, Morrow manages the creation of uAspire's broad suite of college affordability training content, tools, and expertise. She earned her MS in school counseling from Northeastern University and her BS in human development from Binghamton University.