March 12, 2007

Financial aid for grownups not the same as for teenagers

Posted in Student Loan News, The Financial Aid Process at 3:12 PM by Joe From Boston

Here’s an interesting article about the plight of older students – those who enter higher education as an adult as opposed to fresh out of high school.  You can access the entire article from the Greenfield News online.

Grown-ups grapple with financial aid — for themselves
Older college students not eligible for many loans younger students get
Published: Sunday, March 11, 2007 – 2:00 am
By Anna Simon

wealth of financial aid opportunities await students entering college right out of high school, but the pickings are slimmer for those pursuing college degrees later in life.

“There are more obstacles. It’s much more complicated for those students,” said Marvin Carmichael, director of financial aid at Clemson University.

Midlife students graduate with more debt and fewer earning years ahead, said Janie Reid, dean of financial aid at Greenville Technical College.

“It is alarming when you look at the debt mature adults take on to get their college degree, even their two-year college degree,” Reid said.

Clemson senior Mark Landess, 37, will owe about $30,000 when he graduates in August.

Landess, an Anderson Police Department detective, also works a second job, and his wife is a county deputy. He earns too much to qualify for federal grants or loans, and said he was ineligible for state lottery-funded assistance because he attended high school in another state.

He receives $2,000 a year toward tuition from his employer, and otherwise is on his own.

Of 1,512 students at Greenville’s University Center who work, 38 percent receive some form of assistance from their employers, said administrative specialist Mary Jo Hoover.

Personal savings and employer assistance are mainstays for older students, said Sean R. Gallagher, a program director and senior policy analyst at Eduventures Inc., an education research company.

Students who work full time and are financially independent are typically disqualified from federal financial aid programs, Gallagher said.

“The need analysis is going to show they are able to contribute,” said Ed Miller, director of financial aid at the University of South Carolina.

And the “vast majority” of private scholarships are for students coming directly from high school, Miller said.

There are limitations on state scholarship dollars as well.

South Carolina’s elite Palmetto Fellows scholarships, which pay $7,500 a year, are only for students straight out of high school. That’s because the purpose of the program is to keep top high school graduates here, said Karen Woodfaulk, director of student services at the state Commission on Higher Education.

People who lived in other states during high school are disqualified from LIFE scholarships until after their first year of college, even if they now are South Carolina residents and had the required B average in high school.

Only 22 percent of respondents in a recent Eduventures survey of 25,000 current and prospective older students cited scholarships as a revenue source.

“You have to hunt and hunt,” but there are scholarship dollars out there for older students, Reid said.

Charmaine Shucker, 27, a Greenville Tech radiology science student, has two scholarships and state-lottery funded assistance that completely cover her college costs.

Shucker got a list of scholarships offered at Greenville Tech from the financial aid office and applied. A prior 4.0 grade point average helped, but the important thing is to “put your name out there and see what happens,” she said.

Midlife career changer Joye Booher, 47, started saving money and taking prerequisite classes four years before she quit a corporate day job to attend nursing classes full time at Greenville Tech.

The mother of three unsuccessfully applied for every scholarship the school offered.

Then Booher contacted everyone she knew, and discovered a local doctor’s $1,000 scholarship. She went back to the school and asked about scholarships that had been awarded but not used. She found another $1,000. The combination paid most of her college expense this year.

Dialogue has begun in federal policy-making circles to make higher education more affordable and accessible to a growing number of older students, Gallagher said. Tax-exempt savings accounts are one idea being discussed.

Adults going back to school make up 40 percent of enrollment at the nation’s colleges and universities, according to a recent Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Adult learners have different needs than traditional students and shouldn’t be neglected, the report said.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, first person in his family to graduate from college, “has been a strong advocate of adult education and vocational training, and he looks forward to improving opportunities for non-traditional students,” said Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop.

In South Carolina, the most economical route to a bachelor’s degree is to attend a two-year institution and then transfer, said Woodfaulk of the state Commission on Higher Education.

“If the student wants to pursue a two-year degree, certificate or diploma program, South Carolina probably has one of the best programs in the nation,” Woodfaulk said. “A student can access funds.”

But for those who want a four-year degree, “it really depends,” Woodfaulk said.

People who have been out of school for a number of years “need to recognize what their costs will be and the limitations” and plan ahead, Miller said.

They don’t have the “support system” that many traditional students enjoy, Miller said.

They can’t “fall back on Mom and Dad.”