WSCC students seeking financial aid options

SCOTTVILLE — The high cost of a college is forcing more students to look for additional financial aid for assistance in paying for their education.

West Shore Community College dean of students Chad Inabinet and director financial aid Juliann Murphy said the number of students seeking financial assistance is on the rise. They pointed out there are three basic components to federal aid: Pell Grants, federal loans and tax credits.

Most students get a mixture of the three sources — 38 percent of community college students receive a federal grant like a Pell Grant and 17 percent receive a federal student loan. Tax credits really don’t come into play much at WSCC.

“We typically serve about 50 percent of students with Pell Grants and in 2012-13 we awarded almost $2.9 million and in 2013-14 a little over $2.5 million,” said Inabinet.

He said federal loans are another component of the federal funding. There are subsidized and unsubsidized loans. The subsidized are popular since they do not accrue interest, while repayment on subsidized loans starts once that money is in hand.

“There is a six month grace period for loans once a student opts out or graduates to give them a chance to go out in get a job,” he said. “In 2012-13 we served about 20 percent of student population (381 students) that were interested in taking advantage of loans and this year it was down slightly as we had 338 students getting loans.”

The amount of money from Pell Grants and loans is quite high at WSCC.

“In 2012-13 we awarded $3,071,890 to our students and this year we are at about $2.7 million,” he said. “That number for this year might increase a little with Pell Grants as students have late start classes and federal loans are available throughout the year.”

Inabinet said Title IV funding or financial aid opens the door for students to gain an education.

“No matter from what social economic background a student comes to us, they have access to the college,” he said. “That is what the money is set aside for. We also have under Title IV funding grants, loans, work study and tax credits, and they all go together. Students may be eligible for some or all of the different options.”

Applying for financial aid has been made easier according to Inabinet.

“The Department of Education has really done a great job over the years to simplify the process,” he said. “What the Department of Education has done is the application is now online and is much faster.”

Inabinet said it now takes about 20 minutes to complete the forms as opposed to the one to two hours it previously took.

Once that has been completed it kicks in things on the WSCC side. Students then will receive a financial aid application from West Shore.

“That serves two purposes as it informs the students of their rights and where they can spend the money,” he said.

Inabinet said they then figure out the student’s estimated costs for attending WSCC for a particular year. That estimates tuition and fees, books, transportation, room and board and so on.

“That cost of attendance is then subtracted by the estimated family contribution (EFC), which tells us how much a student is eligible to receive,” he said.

The federal Pell grant doesn’t have to be repayed in most instances and is determined by 12 or more credit hours and their financial need.

“A full Pell Grant at WSCC for the 2013-14 year is worth $5,645 at WSCC,” he said. “That is split into a fall and winter term. Other federal Pell Grants are the Federal Supplement to Education grant for students with exceptional financial need.”

There also is the work study where students can work up to 20 hours per week. Last year there were 50 students who took part in work study, earning $79,000. The college is responsible for a 20 percent match.

“It is like any other job, and if a student is interested in a job they have to apply for it,” said Murphy. “Whether they get the job or not doesn’t depend on their financial need. There are always more students looking for jobs than jobs. We tell them if they could get a job, they could earn up to $4,600.”

Inabinet said there also is financial grant aid available through an Iraq/Afghanistan Service Grant for children of deceased veterans.

Another option, he said is state aid for some students. One is the Michigan Competitive Scholarship based on ACT scores and financial need. This year that amounted to about $200,000.

Inabinet said the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver for Native Americans is an option for tribal members. Another option is the Michigan Tuition Incentive Program for students who are on Medicaid coverage for a 24 month period and have graduated from high school, or earned a GED.

Students receive their financial aid through a set plan at WSCC.

“We pre-award students on their accounts,” he said. “Once we determine what they receive, we put it in an account. That allows them to pay their fees and tuition. Students don’t actually get their money until the fourth week of the semester, as we have to make sure they are still taking the same amount of credits and we don’t over award them. Whatever is left over, they receive a check for it.”

The money left over can be used for other expenses, such as transportation costs and room and board.

To keep their financial aid students, must follow a satisfactory academic progress. One of those is to maintain 12 credits and a GPA of 1.65.

“Those requirements are the students must complete 67 percent of the credits they attempt,” said Murphy. “If a student falls into any of those categories, they have to meet with an adviser before the next semester. Between the time they start and graduate the grade point requirements are low, and we try to catch them early to give them help.”

Inabinent said the loan default rate has been something of a concern for some colleges, but not at West Shore. It presently is at 22.6 percent, but the benchmark is to remain below 30 percent. WSCC’s rate is average compared to other community colleges.

“If the college doesn’t do anything to follow the federal requirements when defaults exceed the 30 percent limit, the government could cut off the money we received,” said Murphy.

However, she said the college is required to offer the loans.

“I can’t deny a student a loan,” she Murphy. “They can sit in my office and tell me they are not paying it back. On the one hand federal government is holding us responsible to keep our numbers of defaults low, but on the other hand the federal government is not doing anything.”

Murphy said it is the smaller loan recipients that tend to fail more than those that owe the larger amount.

“Many of those lower ones don’t graduate,” she said. “For the ones that go on, the government takes tax refunds and anything else they can get.”

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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