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Friday, August 23, 2019

How to Pay for College

Tracking down financial help for college can be like trying to find directions in an unfamiliar city—without Google Maps. Planning a route is sometimes a frustrating and time-consuming experience. But if you’re persistent, money is often available—and WCC offers lots of help finding it.

“We hear it over and over again: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know where to start,’” said Lori Trapp, WCC Financial Aid director. “We tell people to start with the FAFSA form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, issued by the U.S Department of Education. It determines if a student is eligible for the federal Pell Grant primarily, as well as student loans and college work-study, a program that provides funds through part-time work. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of cuts in the work-study program.

“The Pell Grant is kind of the basis of all financial aid,” Trapp said. “But people with a bachelor’s degree are not eligible for Pell. A lot of displaced workers we’re seeing fall into that category, and though they’ve been sent a letter from the employment agency or the Department of Labor saying that they’re eligible, they may not be. Most people will qualify for federal Stafford Loans, which are low-fixed-rate loans. But remember, when borrowing for college you have to pay it back.” The federal government provides an entire website that has details about its grant and loan programs.

SRWC Provides Guidance and Grants

Another option is to start with WCC’s Student Resource and Women’s Center. Despite the center’s name, it serves both male and female students. “We’re a real good beginning point for people who have been out of school for a while or who don’t know how to negotiate college,” said Liz Orbits, director of the SRWC. “They come to us lost, scared, and overwhelmed. We get them started and show them the way.”

The SRWC also offers grants to students to cover tuition, books, supplies, child care, and bus transportation. “Students who don’t get any form of financial aid are given priority,” Orbits said. “These are people who don’t qualify for a Pell Grant, but earn below our income guideline. We can provide a percentage of their total costs, but we can’t fund them in their entirety. We offer help negotiating the system on campus and in the community to put a patchwork of things together and present them with resources they may not have thought about.”

Orbits and her staff can help students explore loan opportunities or set up a tuition payment plan that they can manage, like the ePayPlan offered through WCC. They’ll also hook them up with organizations outside the College that might provide support such as the Child Care Network, which offers child care scholarships for those who qualify. They also refer students to community agencies like Ozone House, Michigan Works!, and Michigan Rehabilitation Services, which have special programs for people who meet their criteria.

WCC Foundation Offers Scholarships

Another good place to start, for both incoming and existing students, is the WCC Foundation. In fiscal year 2008-09, it provided over $660,000 in scholarships to 1,290 WCC students. The Feb. 10 deadline for scholarship applications for Spring/Summer semester is fast approaching.

“Awards are made on a combination of merit and financial need,” said Alicia Schuster, scholarship coordinator. “Students can apply online under their MyWCC account, or paper applications are available in the Foundation office. One universal application is used for all Foundation awards. Students must have a current FAFSA on file, have a 2.0 cumulative GPA, and be a student in good standing to qualify for any Foundation scholarship.

“We also administer the Barker Scholarship through Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, which awards $20,000-$25,000 in funding to WCC students each year,” Schuster said. “Students apply through the AAACF website, and can receive $500 per semester if they qualify.”

Other Scholarship Sources are Plentiful

Existing WCC students can apply for a WCC Divisional Scholarship at the Financial Aid office. The award pays tuition and fees for two consecutive semesters, plus money for books and supplies. Students must have earned at least a 3.3 GPA at WCC and have completed a minimum of 30 credit hours (vocational technologies applicants need only 20 credits) and reside in Washtenaw County to apply.

Two different scholarships for local high school seniors are available through the Financial Aid office. The President’s Honor Scholarship is awarded to five students from each public high school in Washtenaw County. The Procassini Honor Scholarship is given annually to an additional student from each of the public high schools.

Another possible source for help with college costs is service groups like the Rotary and the Optimists. Some religious organizations also provide financial assistance.

Many national corporations and foundations also offer scholarships. For example, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation provides scholarships totaling $3.4 million to over 1,400 students each year. One of its scholarship programs, the Coca-Cola All-State Community College Academic Team, is specifically designed for community college students.

The Walmart Foundation offers several scholarship programs. Some target Walmart employees and their dependents, but one provides $3,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors with at least a 2.5 GPA and financial need.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sponsors the Gates Millennium Scholars program for people of African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian and Pacific Islander American, or Hispanic American descent. The scholarships for incoming students consider GPA, leadership abilities, and community service, among other factors.

The VA Helps Veterans

Veterans, along with their spouses and dependents, may qualify for help with college bills from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  “There are two packages available to our troops,” said Andrea Reilly, who works with close to 200 veterans attending WCC. “Under the old benefit, they had 10 years from the date of their honorable discharge to use their educational benefits. It extended to dependents and spouses of vets who were 100 percent disabled or deceased. The Post 9/11 Bill, which applies to veterans on active duty 9/11 or after, established that educational benefits can be transferred to a spouse or dependent. However, they must meet VA criteria to be eligible.”

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