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Does Financial Aid Really Help?

Many young students are finding it hard to cope with their finances today. Most are working two jobs just to keep their life afloat. One pharmacy student worked 9 to 5 in a low-paying chain store and has a second job at McDonald’s during the weekends. Why does this student, Airis Graham, have to go through this?

Apparently, this student is supposedly sponsored but the scholarship cannot keep up with rising tuition fees. Claflin, her university in Orangeburg, S.C, is not willing to release her transcript until she settles an outstanding amount of $7,000 for her junior year tuition bill. Graham just wants to earn enough money to transfer her course to a public university near Carbondale, Illinois.

Graham isn’t a poor student. She’s slightly above average with a B minus average, which is quite impressive considering the amount of hours she works. She knows that to ensure a better future for her family and get a stable economy is to have a good education. But, it is also a catch-22 situation. To get a good education, you’ll need money.

The Problem
The worse thing is, Graham isn’t the only one. Although around $74 billion in financial aid is given this year by schools, charities and the state, rising costs have reduced the significance of scholarships. On top of ever ballooning tuition fees, students have to contend with the failing economy, which makes jobs scarce.

This is definitely bad news to the 18 million students enrolling into college for this past decade compared to 4 million students before that. This had a negative impact on their scholarship, which had raised no more than $2,000. That amount cannot cope with the annual fee of $14,000 a typical college will charge.

The Flawed System
To make matters even worse, the distribution and handling of the money is flawed and often mysterious. Students from select towns or cities are more likely to get financial aid than other more worthy students. More than a million deserving students fail to get scholarships due to this problem.

Most state departments are also giving scholarships to those who are relatively richer than the aforementioned students. The students receiving scholarships can afford to be sponsored privately by their families. Research indicates that $2.3 billion is given to these wealthy students instead of poorer students of the same educational standard.

This created a huge educational gap that is growing every year. Less than 30 percent of students form low-income families earn college degrees. Comparatively, more than 75 percent of wealthier students finish college.

This has many effects on the individual and the nation. In a country where certificates mean a lot, these poor students might have to work at menial jobs instead of ones that are more suited to them. This is bad for the country as well, as we need more young bright minds to ensure a safe future for our descendants.

The Financial Situation
Before this, most families finance their children’s education through loans. However, in the recent years, credit crunch and rising living costs has caused the process to be more complicated. Even Marilyn Cargill, president of the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs and director of Vermont’s financial aid programs, is admit she is scared of the repercussions the economy is having on education.

William Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland system, agrees by saying that the percentage of students requiring financial aid is growing at an alarming rate every year, with the aid limping to keep up with it.

Ignorance and Complications
And although many schools and communities urge teenagers to go to college, they fail to provide a path, says Orenthious “OJ” Hill, an aspiring history teacher. Due to family matters, he was raised by his grandfather and has failed to get a grant until he was 24, where he took out a need-based scholarship on his own. He says he has no idea where to apply for such scholarships during his first semester in college, showing poor communication on the state and federal government’s part.

There are more people like Hill, who don’t know about the basic grants and scholarships they might be eligible for. For those who do, they find it frustrating and complicated, especially when filling out the 145-question long FAFSA form. The documents needed to complete this task may take more than 10 hours to gather, and when applying for financial aid, every minute counts.

The Fine Print
There are enough problems on the students’ plate without mentioning the requirements that comes with every grant or scholarship. For example, the TEACH Grant, a way to help aspiring teachers work through college. They are often misleading since they are loans instead of grants which require you to adhere to certain terms and conditions. Within eight years of graduation, the teacher has to work as a highly-qualified public servant at a low income federally-designated school, teaching a highly-needed subject for four years. If you don’t comply, you’ll need to pay back the grants, plus interest.

At the University of North Florida (UNF), this financial situation has caused a joke to circulate that says UNF stands for U Never Finish, a statement that is hauntingly true. Many sponsored students are required to attend class fulltime, but with rising living costs, they’re forced to work to cover the extra expenses. The scholarship is cut down according to the hours they spend at work instead of class, giving them less money and forcing the students to work more and skip class. It’s a never-ending cycle.

However, there is a silver lining. More parents are becoming concerned for their children and have completed the federal applications this year, 9 million in total. This is a good improvement from last year and may help more students pursue their dreams.

Differing Perspectives
The government and the people have to different point of views. The methods used are dated and not adjusted to the current financial climate. For example, the federal government calculates a family’s expected contribution by assuming that 22 percent of their money is set aside after earning $36,000. This figure is achieved by studying the spending patterns of low-income families in 1967 and adjusting it according to the consumer price index. They do not take into account they rising prices of gasoline and household items which may force families to spend more. These causes them to arrive to wrong conclusions, such as stipulating that the minimum amount needed for self-sufficiency in a city is $55,200 when the number is close to $80,000.

The financial aid given to poor students is so little that parents can only afford to pay their EFC. Certain grants, like the Pell Grant, are capped; the Pell grant being at $4,731. This may be enough to get into any community college, but not into an in-state university which fees is around $23,000. This is worsened by the additional fees one must add on top of the EFC, which may range from $2,000 to $10,000.

The Effects
This ever burgeoning situation is taking its toll on students, who find it distracting from their studies. Most of them are working part-time to cover their costs and add to the meager $2,000 they get. This caused many students to drop out for a few semesters to pay debts before being able to get on their feet again. In short, their education is affected.

And it shows no signs of getting better. Several societies are already helping students finance their education with more relaxed rules. They allow students to work a sufficient amount of time and give better estimates for low-income families. A simpler system is needed for the proper distribution of funds and better selection. And more money. We always need more money.

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