College Now Interns on the Issues: Part 2
In our last blog post, we shared the college-going experiences of three College Now summer interns enrolled at three different colleges in the Midwest. Each college student chose their postsecondary institution based on cost, found ways to carefully balance, work, academics and extracurriculars, and expressed frustration with the financial aid process.
As these students begin the second half of their undergraduate experience, they are still optimistic about their futures and the benefit their postsecondary education will have on their career opportunities.
On their student-loan debt:
Brianna wants to be an athletic trainer for the USA Women’s Track & Field team, which will require graduate education. She currently feels confident in paying for college, completing the FAFSA and paying off her loans. However, Brianna acknowledges the burden of student debt on many of her peers. “There are thousands of horror stories about [students] taking out several loans and drowning in debt,” Brianna said. “However, I was fortune enough to have people in my life teach me about college debt and different options when paying for college. I learned about outside scholarships and grants. College Now Greater Cleveland and Upward Bound connected me with a scholarship database. Upward Bound also walked me through my financial aid award letter explaining each scholarship and each loan, then explaining the loan repayment process.”
Steph would also like to continue to graduate school and become a lawyer. She has worked diligently to avoid loans her freshman and sophomore year, and while she lost her Pell Grant eligibility this past spring, she is committed to graduating from college student loan debt free. She is especially grateful for the support she has received from College Now and the Jimmy Malone Scholarship. She is confident that if she graduates from undergrad without loans, she’ll be able to afford law school.
Rachel is still figuring out her postgraduate plans, so she is not entirely sure how that will affect her ability to pay off her loans. “I’m hoping that I enter a career where I don’t have too much difficulty paying off loans while affording to live on my own, but I am a bit nervous about what will happen,” Rachel said.
On the need for increase postsecondary attainment in Ohio:
These young women understand why postsecondary education is so important for their own economic successes and the future of Ohio. Steph acknowledges that “the more educated you are, the more opportunities and options you have regarding career choices.”
Brianna referenced Ohio’s skills gap and the growing demanded for skilled employees. “Ohio has a shortage of working-age adults,” she said. “If new jobs require postsecondary education, then college/university graduation rates must increase. However, Ohio is ranked dead last in enrollment growth. I was shocked to learn this! Then I thought, I do not attend a university in Ohio. I am enrolled in a university in Pennsylvania due to receiving more financial aid from that university. Ohio is ranked 45th out of 50 states in college affordability, meaning paying for your education is expensive and an investment.”
On the need for affordable postsecondary options:
Brianna believes that that the government should invest more in college, saying that “postsecondary education is literally an investment. Getting a degree is almost essential when job searching.” This caused Brianna to raise a question: “Why is college so expensive if getting a postsecondary degree is almost necessary? Some ask, shouldn’t college be free? I personally do not feel college should be free. I do, however, believe the cost of education is extremely expensive in America, and tuition should be reduced. College tuition increases each year, while financial aid simultaneously decreases.”
In addition to increasing government aid, Brianna continues, “being educated on college debt is important. Understanding each loan, grant and scholarship offered to you is important. More college readiness programs should be offered teaching students about college debt and providing alternative ways to pay for college other than loans.”
Steph agrees that “college shouldn’t be free, but it should be affordable.” Specifically, she said, “expecting students to pay off whatever amount is owed during the first week of school is ridiculous, and while we’re waiting for scholarship checks to come in, we’re charged for interest? The small fees that we’re required to pay add up.” Steph also questions why colleges continue to increase tuition. “Every year, tuition rises another thousand dollars – but why? Because the school rebuilt apartments on campus and requires all students to pay – even though you’re a commuter? I don’t have a solution to this question, but nothing in life comes free – and if it does, it’s because you have worked hard to get where you are.”
On simplifying college access:
In addition to keeping tuition and fees flat and increasing state and federal support for higher education, Steph recommends changes to current financial aid policy that would recognize the diversity of family circumstances. Steph firmly believes that “parental financial information should not be included during the FAFSA process” or at the very least, “there should be an option that allows you to check ‘yes’ or ‘no’ regarding parental financial support through college. In my case, my parents do not provide any financial support in my life whatsoever, and that’s how it has been since I was 16. The government does not take into consideration that there are different circumstances in every person’s life which can limit their ability to afford college.”
Finally, to further close the talent gap and promote equity, Brianna believes that measures must be taken to “educate our children as early as possible, exposing them to colleges, universities, and trades to make the ‘life after high school’ decision less confusing. Getting students interested in postsecondary education will help them qualify for advanced jobs in the future. Ohio is creating the jobs opportunities, and now Ohio must produce more college and university graduates.”
College Now was fortunate to have these bright, hardworking and ambitious young women as part of the team this summer. We are grateful that they were willing to share their personal stories.
The next two blog posts veer away from state and federal policy issues that we have been addressing in recent articles and instead focuses on the students that these policies impact. The three interns referenced in this (names changed for privacy) come from different socioeconomic statuses, attended different high schools and are currently enrolled in three different colleges. Despite these differences, their stories have commonalities that unify their college-going experiences and their paths that brought them to College Now this summer.
College Now Interns on the Issues: Part 1
Each summer College Now is privileged to hire interns to help the organization with programing, development and operations. To be an intern at College Now, students must be in a degree-seeking program and have an interest in helping students obtain postsecondary credentials. The students who apply to intern at College Now are frequently attracted to the opportunity due to their own frustrations with the college-going process and a desire to help students navigate their paths to and through college. College Now interns are often former recipients of College Now services and current recipients of a College Now scholarship.
On the college selection process:
Three years ago, Brianna, now a rising junior, had her heart set on Xavier University in Cincinnati. However, upon seeing her award letter, she knew that making the in-state private school work for her family financially would be nearly impossible. Brianna was (understandably) averse to taking out federal student loans and, while she planned to apply for scholarships, she knew that depending on them to make ends meet would be equally “risky.” Instead, Brianna accepted enrollment at her second-choice institution, Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania.
Steph’s first choice was Capital University in Columbus. Steph “wanted to get away from home and have that ‘college experience.’” At the advice of her counselor, she also applied to Baldwin Wallace “since it was like Capital but without the two-hour drive.” After weighing all her options, Steph decided to attend Baldwin Wallace and commute from home: “It would be $12,000 cheaper, and I was lucky enough to have been awarded scholarships to cover fees.”
For Rachel, college costs were a leading factor in her college decision. If cost were no issue at all, she “would probably have considered a lot more out-of-state options and would have seriously considered applying to programs I wanted within those schools.” While she did apply to two out-of-state schools, and was accepted to both, she knew she “could not seriously consider them as options unless granted a significant amount of scholarship money.” Rachel is currently a junior at Ohio State University.
On the financial aid process:
Steph has been chosen for verification every year she completed the FAFSA so “has had to send in additional paperwork, which is annoying.” Just this past year, she lost her Pell-eligibility, and will need to take out a loan or apply for more scholarships for her junior and senior year.
For Brianna, “the FAFSA was smooth sailing” for her freshman and sophomore year of college. She hit a bump in the road entering her junior year when she had to complete verification paperwork. “The process was not hard, just annoying. Completing the verification paperwork was re-submitting documents. I basically had to complete the FAFSA twice (and who wants to do that?!). But it was necessary in order to continue receiving the Ohio College Opportunity Grant and the Pell Grant along with two loans,” Brianna said.
On balancing academics, work, and life:
Now in college, Brianna “learned that being an adult is expensive . . . Trying to balance school and sleep is difficult enough – trying to find time to work to afford expenses on top of that is even harder.” Brianna is eligible for Federal Work Study and works on campus for a professor in her department. This has the added benefit of helping Brianna build a professionally relevant relationship and limits the number of hours she can work so she can focus on her academics.
Steph learned the importance of balance the hard way. “During my first year, I was working full-time while also attending school full-time, and it made a major impact on my grades because I was not dedicating my time to what really mattered,” Steph said. Eventually Steph “cut down to working 30 hours per week during the spring semester and had all As.” Steph learned that “ultimately, it all comes down to prioritizing and being able to take a step back from whatever is hurting your academic success. What I realized is that long-term outweighs the short-term. It’s great to be getting $600 paychecks while in school but it’s not so great when you’re receiving Cs and low-Bs when you know you could be getting As.”
This past year, Rachel worked a part time job while she was in school. Rachel found it “exhausting at times to come home from work and immediately have to start studying or writing a paper.” However, it was necessary as she “would not be able to afford to participate in extracurriculars otherwise.” Rachel “doesn’t think that working part time necessarily hurt my academic success, but it did force me to prioritize my time and miss out on some things I wish I could have done.”
In our next post, we share these women’s outlook for the future, their concerns about student loan repayment, and the federal and state policies they would change if given the opportunity.