Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Potential budget cuts threaten financial aid

As colleges and universities begin the process of packaging student financial aid for 2011, now more than ever institutions are questioning how to proceed with all of the potential spending bills and budget cuts. For the last two years WJC and other private schools have been advocating for the Access Missouri Grant, but today we've learned of a new challenge.

On Saturday, February 19th the U.S. House of Representatives approved a "stop-gap" spending bill that would cut the maximum 2011 Pell Grant by $845, reducing the maximum amount from $5,550 to $4,705. The bill is now to be considered by the Senate.

Students, families, and educators are encouraged to contact your legislative representatives and advocate for funding the Pell Grant at the maximum level.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

IRS Data Retrieval for FAFSA

I recently attended a financial aid conference that focused on a lot of financial issues that our federal and state governments are dealing with in regards to higher education. As many can probably assume, budget deficits have many elected officials trying to figure out where money is going to come from.

One highlight of the conference though, was regarding the changes that the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) have made to the 2011-2012 FAFSA. This past summer, the FAFSA began giving student applicants the option to retrieve their and their parents financial information straight from the IRS . While many Jewell students filed the FAFSA before this was available to them, most will be able to take advantage of this tool for 2011.

So, how does it work and why? We all know that the FAFSA looks at prior year income, so in order to accurately complete the application you would need to file your taxes first and have the tax form sitting in front of you at the computer. The IRS data retrieval system simply makes it easier and more accurate. Rather than you manually key entering your adjusted gross income, taxes paid and other tax calculations, the FAFSA will access the IRS database with your permission, and automatically transfer that data straight to your FAFSA. Therefore, your FAFSA will be as accurate as the information you provided to the IRS.

All you and your parents need to do is file your taxes electronically and wait approximately one week before you file the FAFSA. If you file taxes by mailing them to the IRS you would need to wait longer than a week due to processing. Obviously we are going to continue to encourage students to file their FAFSA prior to March 1 and the state of Missouri will continue to have an April 1 deadline for all state aid programs, therefore if you or your parents intend to wait as long as possible, this may not be a route you should take. But, for a majority of students this will apply and make it more reassuring that you filed the FAFSA correctly.

Now, the downside is that this process does not eliminate our need to verify the accuracy of the FAFSA for those students selected for verification. Although, it will make it easier for us to do so.

The Jewell financial aid office will continue to provide valuable information to students regarding financial aid in 2011 and have already begun gearing up on how to best serve Jewell students for the upcoming year.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Looking forward to 2011

It has been a while since the WJC financial aid office has updated it's Blog. It's been long overdue. Looking back over the last few months a lot of things have changed:
  • The FFELP loan program was eliminated in favor of Federal Direct Loans.
  • The State of Missouri cut the Access Missouri Grant (AMG) and Bright Flight Scholarship by $30 million dollars. Instead of students receiving a maximum $4,600 at private schools in AMG, all eligible students received $1,900. Bright Flight awards were cut from $2,000 to $1,500.
  • More families are considered to have "financial need" according to their FAFSAs. Slightly more than 1 in 4 WJC students are eligible for the Federal Pell Grant in 2010 at 28% of the student body.
  • Even with the cuts to state funding, MO residents were still deemed to have "financial need" with 2 in 5 WJC students from MO being eligible for the Access MO Grant.

Obviously all of this is caused by the state of the economy. But that hasn't stopped WJC from trying to help. In 2009, a first-year student at WJC received, on average, $18,302 in gift assistance. That year, the comprehensive cost (tuition, fees, room and board) was $31,000. This means that, on average, a first year student in 2009 was only responsible for $12,698. For those of you who like sales, think of it like a 59% off sign. Now obviously, not everyone qualified for this type of financial assistance, but it helps make a point that we're trying to make an education possible for everyone.

While we're in the process of calculating these same figures for the 2010 first-year class, it's safe to say that a similar kind of action was taken to discount the total cost of attending college for students with financial need.

So looking forward to 2011, how do students still help lower the cost of a college education? In addition to filing the FAFSA on time, the most often overlooked source of free financial aid is private scholarship funding from organizations. There are millions of scholarships out there for the picking, that often times never have an applicant much less a recipient. Now, obviously a million scholarships is a bit intimidating and often times the hoops to jump through aren't justifiable. But, it's still a source of free funding and at the WJC financial aid website there is an expansive listing of scholarship opportunities for interested students. All it takes is time and effort.