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Students scramble for scholarships

By Staff | Jan 10, 2009

Incoming college freshman won’t begin their first year of college until fall of 2009, but that doesn’t mean that many Southwest Florida families aren’t working this month to secure funding to pay for tuition because of the tight credit market.
Students have been feverishly submitting their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) due Jan. 1. This application gives students access to an estimated $144 billion in federal, state and institutional aid and according to The College Board the number of students receiving public loans has increased.
Between 2006 and 2008 the number of federal loans doled out to students increased by 6 percent, yet real figures on whether the 2008 credit crisis has affected the financial aid market aren’t available at this time.
Cindy Lewis, director of Financial Aid at Edison State College, said the economy hasn’t forced the U.S. Congress to decrease the amount of federal funds available for students, but it could put a wrench in plans to receive private or alternative loans. This means that students at higher-cost institutions will have a difficult time securing their tuition.
“The only significant difference is that some of the higher-cost institution students have to rely on private student loans to meet costs,” said Lewis.
Typically students at private, high-cost institutions leave college with more debt anyway. The College Board reported that student borrowers from private schools graduate with 25 percent more debt than their counterparts at public institutions.
Besides submitting the FAFSA at the first of the year, many students also are applying for scholarships and other state programs to supplement their aid package. Randi Wyatt, a senior at Cape Coral High School, has applied for federal aid, sent out three scholarships applications and applied for Bright Futures.
“I put my application for Bright Futures but I have to go through federal student aid to get information,” she said.
Bright Futures’ Florida Medallion Scholars program covers 100 percent of tuition for students seeking an associate’s degree and 75 percent of tuition for those wanting a bachelor’s degree at one of Florida’s 28 public colleges. Funding from the state for this program increased 13.8 percent in 2008 and Lewis said that Edison State has enrolled 200 more FMS students.
Wyatt said she applied to the teacher’s program at Florida Gulf Coast University and is hoping she will be chosen for the Teacher’s Grant, a federal government stipend paying for college as long as they work for four years at a public school.
Of course, juggling the applications for financial aid, scholarships, grants and to college can be stressful, especially at a high anxiety time for many graduating seniors.
“It has been so stressful, I put in my application for FGCU and I don’t know how I am going to pay for college,” said Wyatt.
And she isn’t the only student sending out applications for more financial aid than ever. Officials from FAFSA said on Jan. 6 that there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of families seeking aid in the first five days of January.
“The demand for student aid has been climbing as the recession batters family budgets, parents’ jobs are eliminated, and self-employed parents experience business downturns,” said Craig V. Carroll, chief executive officer of Student Financial Aid Services, in a prepared statement. “Given the trend we have been seeing since November, we expect this season to break records for the number of college students competing for financial aid.”
The Lee County School District is hosting three Financial Aid Nights in each of the zones. Cape Coral High School will host the informational seminar on Jan. 29. According to Jean Campbell, director of the district’s Safe and Drug Free Schools, the event will walk parents through the process.
“We will walk parents through and see what aid is available on state and federal levels,” said Campbell.
She has been organizing Financial Aid Nights since 1985 and said this year could bring in more parents interested in financial aid than ever before. Edison State works in concert with the school district for this event, and Lewis will be representing the state college at the event.
“If it is anything like the colleges have experienced this year nationwide I would think we would have an excellent turnout,” said Lewis. “There is a significant increase in federal aid applications.”