CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS MAKE THEIR WAY TO COLLEGE?

I was the college student that worked two jobs (one full time and the other part time) and relied on financial aid, scholarships, and loans to go to college. I completely understand what prospective and current students are going through.

I had to think outside of the box to afford college. This included visiting my local town hall to see if trade and civic organizations offered scholarships. I needed to fill the gap between what I could invest in my education and the financial aid package I was offered, and school tuition. This information was not as easy to access on the internet as it is today.

My goal was to attend a large university, but I ultimately decided to attend a small, private school - Assumption College in Worcester, MA. This decision was based on many factors with the largest one being financial. I would have never considered this school when I first started my college search. I wanted to go to a school that was far away from my hometown with all the benefits that a large school had to offer. Once I started my college search and realized that this goal might not be attainable for me, I decided to have an open mind and look at other options. This turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life. Assumption College was a perfect fit for me.

Prospective students need to be flexible and take a holistic approach to their college search. It is more than about the sticker price that the school publishes on its website. Students need to look at the true cost or net price for them as an individual. Therefore, I take a consultative approach and guide students to consider the complete picture. This includes everything from determining the actual price they would pay to attend Georgian Court University to finding the resources to pay the tuition (e.g., financial aid, grant, merit or athletic scholarships, endowment or foundation funds, student/parent loans). We also address the potential return on their investment (i.e., lifetime value and earning potential) they could realize as a GCU graduate. Many students find that GCU is more affordable than they original thought – even less expensive than a public university or college in New Jersey.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

Typically, prospective students, as well as their parents and other members of their support system, look at the advertised cost of attending a school and narrow down their options based on price instead of value. I encourage students to fully consider the 3 major A's: accessibility, affordability and accountability when deciding which school to attend.

Accessibility is based on factors such as meeting the acceptance criteria, the school offering what the student wants to study, and being accepted into the program.

Affordability is the net price of attending the school to the student or what he/she will actually have to pay, as well as how the tuition will be funded over four years. Are the funds available from the student's support system, a 529 plan or other college savings plan, or contributions from the student? Many students and their families think in terms of taking out a $20,000 loan for one year instead of $80,000 to cover all four years, which could become an issue. Students and their support system must consider how to fund the entire cost or take a chance that the funds might not be available to graduate after they get started. Students must realize that they or their support system are still required to pay back student/parent loans even if they do not graduate.

Accountability takes into consideration whether or not the student will be able to graduate from the institution. All three of these dynamics must be considered – not just the price. The impact of attending college on a person's life is also an important consideration.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?

The most common misconception is that the student and his/her support system will have to pay the advertised price to attend the university or college. I highly recommend that prospective students meet with an admissions/financial aid counselor when they first visit a school or are thinking about the institution. Many people assume that some schools are beyond their reach when they might not be. An admissions/financial aid counselor can properly advise the student on what the true cost will be for him/her based on numerous factors, such as their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), SAT or ACT scores, performance in high school, extracurricular and community service activities, work history, family income, etc. Each of these factors are unique to the student. For example, a student working in retail may be eligible for a scholarship through the National Retail Association or his/her parents could work for a company associated with trade or civic organizations that offer scholarships. Federal or state grants might be available. There are a lot of resources available to fund the cost of higher education that the prospective student may not be aware of, or even know where to start looking. An admissions/financial aid counselor can provide a lot of guidance on the available resources.

Another misconception is that there is only one path to attaining a college degree. There are many options to consider making the school of choice more affordable for a student such as commuting instead of living on campus.

WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION?

There are many choices student and their families must make to afford a college degree. The most obvious ones are attending a community college and then transferring to a four-year institution, commuting to school from home instead of living on campus, serving as a resident assistant (RA) to defer the cost of housing, working full or part-time, taking evening or online course while working, participating in work/study programs, taking College-Level Examination Project (CLEP) exams or Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school to earn transferable credits, as well as exploring financial aid and student loans.

I encourage students and their support systems to be transparent and have a conversation with the institution's admissions/financial aid counselors before assuming that they cannot afford to attend a school. Make a list of questions before your meeting with the counselor and be honest about your financial position. This is not the time to hold back information on your finances. Counselors are there to help you make the right decision for your situation.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT LOW-INCOME FAMILIES? MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES?

All students and their families should carefully consider the above factors when making the decision on which school to attend. Higher education is an investment in the student's future and quality of his/her life. There are stepping stones that a student can take, and adjustments can be made to an original plan – including attending a more affordable school instead of the school of their dreams.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

The top piece of advice I would give all students and their parents/guardians is not to base your decision on a school, or attending college at all, on assumptions. Each situation and student are unique. Just because a friend or family member could not afford to attend a school doesn't mean that you can't, even if your income level is the same. Take the time to learn the facts and then make the decision that is best for you.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?

I advise students to talk to their high school guidance counselor, if applicable, and the admissions/financial aid counselors of the school(s) they are interested in attending. I also recommend that students be diligent about identifying all financial resources that they may be eligible for by checking online resources such as www.FastWeb.com for scholarships.

Every college-bound student should take the SAT at least twice. Thousands of dollars in funds could be made available to the student by scoring 100 or more points higher on the SAT. Students that don't do well on the SAT should consider taking the ACT. The SAT is heavily based on science and math. Students with more creative minds may score better on the ACT.

Finally, I suggest that students have an open mind and find an institution that meets their goals by looking at the qualitative and quantitative attributes of schools on their list and those that are not. Students may find that a college or university they are not currently considering is a better fit, or that another path to earning a degree maybe be a more sensible choice for them.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS YOU SEE HIGH SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT'S SUPPORTING STUDENTS APPLYING TO COLLEGE, SPECIFICALLY FINANCIAL AID?

High school guidance departments and school districts play a critical role in the college decision making process. They have resources about colleges and universities, financial aid, federal and private student loans, federal and state grants, and other valuable information that can make a degree attainable.

Most high schools and/or school districts offer college recruitment fairs and programs on topics such as the college search process, how to write a college resume or essay, what to look for in a school, and financial aid and preparing for the SAT. Outside experts and subject matter authorities are often invited to speak at these events. Some of these speakers offer special programs. Students and their families should take advantage of all the resources available to them at the high school level.

High school coaches, teachers, and counselors frequently recommend exceptional athletes and students talk to their college counterparts to find out about scholarships. Students should discuss their goals and aspirations with coaches, teachers, and counselors so they are aware of what the student is looking to achieve.

High schools also publish guides, fact sheets, and tips on various subjects related to going to college. Students and their families should ensure that they receive and read this literature.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THEM ADOPT?

Many of the programs offered by high schools and school districts are for seniors. I would like to see the process to start in a student's junior year and cover more information about how to finance an education. As indicated above there are many other alternatives to consider.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

Universities should adopt a consultative approach to help students afford college. There are so many options to consider and alternatives to the traditional path of earning a degree. At GCU, we discovered that by taking a consultative approach, prospective students were better informed, had a clearer understanding of their financial obligation to the school, and knew what financial resources they may be eligible for and how the investment in their education would impact their lives and livelihood.

This information is vital for all prospective students to have no matter where they are in life: high school, already in a career, transitioning to a new field, or a senior citizen wanting to enrich their minds. It is the only way to analyze the cost vs. the benefit of attending a college or university and actually earning a degree.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

There are so many wonderful online resources. Some of ones I recommend are:

CollegeBoard – provides information on admission requirements, the SAT, ACT and AP tests, as well as college planning, financing, and other valuable content.

College Navigator – hosted by the National Center on Education Statistics, provides a snapshot on the true cost of attending a school.

Fast Web – provides information on $3 billion worth of scholarships and can match students with scholarships which they may be eligible for based on certain criteria.

College Scorecard – hosted by the U.S. Department of Education Scorecard, has qualitative and quantitative data on schools.

The Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) – hosted by the New Jersey Department of Education. HESAA has many valuable resources on planning for college, tuition aid grants, and various types of family loans.

ANY FINAL THOUGHTS FOR US?

Think out of the box. Anything is possible if you put your heart and mind into it. No one should be limited by their lack of financial resources. There are ways to attend college if you are willing to do the work and make sacrifices, if necessary, and truly want to earn a college education. College-bound students should start the investigative process early (junior year of high school) to ensure there is enough time to gather the appropriate materials, meet with college admissions/financial aid counselors, research and apply for funding, and analyze the qualitative and quantitative benefits of each school before making a decision.

Justin G. Roy

Dean of Admissions at Georgian Court University

Justin G. Roy is the Dean of Admissions at Georgian Court University (Lakewood, NJ) where he oversees enrollment management, one of the most critical areas of the university's operations. Roy, formerly vice president of enrollment and marketing at William Peace University in Raleigh, North Carolina, has extensive experience in recruitment, marketing, brand development, operations planning, and business development. At William Peace, Roy expanded student recruitment territories among his staff and rebranded the university following its 2011–2012 transition from a historic women's institution to a co-ed university. There he also led and integrated marketing and communications efforts, implemented a new customer relationship management system, and designed strategic reorganizations, all of which contributed to increased student enrollments. Previously, he worked at Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts, as director of social and digital media. At Nichols, he also increased brand visibility, led a website redesign, and implemented a range of digital strategies to support enrollment and the college's online marketing. Roy, who joined GCU in 2015, is an expert in long-term growth strategies for colleges and universities. His portfolio also reflects his ongoing work in areas like financial aid modeling, higher education partnerships and collaborations with industry, and student retention. In addition, he is a fierce advocate for increasing campus diversity, including the recruitment of more first-generation students. In all of his work, Roy focuses on the student experience. He bonds with GCU's market-savvy millennials on a regular basis – knowing them by name, knowing their history, and helping them realize their goals. Under his leadership, GCU's admissions office recently adopted a new CRM that substantially expanded the university's recruitment efforts and extended the hours of GCU's financial aid and registrar offices, making them more accessible to students and their families. He also launched admissions partnerships between GCU and more than 15 high schools and community colleges. Such programs expand the ways GCU helps students afford, and access, college. Roy and his staff also implemented a new program, Degree Up!, to help adult students complete their degree. Before working in higher education, Roy held leadership positions in sales, marketing consulting, and development. He also co-founded Give Back Chicago, an organization that matched individuals' professional skills with the needs of nonprofit organizations and gave young professionals—employed, unemployed, underemployed, or in transition—an opportunity to give back or keep their skills sharp.