Financial aid paramount
Seminar gives students, parents tips on securing money
Steamboat Springs — For Mike Smith, parent of Steamboat Springs High School senior Brian Smith, applying for college financial aid will be more important than ever this year.
The economic recession is a motivating factor for the Smith family, who, like families across the country, is searching for ways to make their children’s post-secondary education more affordable. Mike Smith was one of about 80 local parents who attended a college financial aid presentation Monday organized by Steamboat Springs High School college and career counselor Gayle Dudley.
“We’re going to start applying for anything and everything,” Smith said after Monday’s gathering. “My income is dropping, so where before I wouldn’t have been so concerned, now I am.”
Meghan Cave, an outreach coordinator for CollegeInvest, a state agency that serves as a financial aid resource, said she has found that parents are more proactive in their search for sources of financial aid this year.
“I would say people are more worried and more engaged than they have been before,” she said.
Cave travels across Colorado giving presentations about how to apply for aid, and she said the seminars have been well attended everywhere she goes.
Along with the need for financial aid, some parents and students are choosing colleges that are more affordable. Dudley said she has seen a trend this year of more students applying to in-state colleges where tuition is typically lower.
“We’ve seen this as a national trend – that students are looking at in-state colleges more,” she said. “As I’ve been on state college tours, I think that’s a national trend.”
Students were told Monday that it never hurts to apply for financial aid, and that many families will qualify for aid after filling out the Free Application for Student Aid, found at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Cave will return to the high school Jan. 26 to help parents fill out the FAFSA application. Dudley encourages parents to register with her before attending the event.
The FAFSA is an important tool, Dudley said, because it allows parents to understand what they are expected to contribute toward their child’s education.
Dudley said that according to a Washington Post article from 2006, more than 90 percent of parents underestimate how much they will be expected to contribute for their child’s higher education.
Compounding the issue, several local scholarships for college-bound seniors won’t be offered this year, Dudley said. Last year, Steamboat Springs High School seniors received $134,000 in local scholarships, but Dudley said several donors have said they will not be offering money this year.
Dudley, along with Cave, Brooke Koenig of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Mary Edwards from Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus gave parents and students a guide to how financial aid works.
Even with tight family finances, Koenig told parents it’s not yet time to stop considering more expensive colleges yet.
“Don’t swear off a school just because it says $44,000. Work with the financial aid officers,” she said.
Even with the financial warnings, not all parents received frightening news during the financial seminar.
Amy Morris, mother of a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, found that she does not have to panic just yet. With deadlines typically starting to hit around January of the students’ senior year, Morris has some time.
“It’s good to know I don’t have to start just yet,” she said.
Even so, Cave said she has seen another result from the financial strain being put on families – requests for seminars about saving, aimed at elementary school parents.
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