Fort McCoy hosts student financial aid availability workshop
February 27, 2009
College or university costs may be expensive for many families, but there are steps parents and students can take now to help make education more affordable, according to personnel from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UW-La Crosse) Financial Aid Office.
Vernell Glenn and Sharyn Lehrke of UW-La Crosse spoke at a Feb. 6 financial aid workshop at Fort McCoy, which was sponsored by the Fort McCoy Army Community Service (ACS) Financial Readiness Program.
Glenn works as a financial aid counselor/student employment coordinator/student financial aid/enrollment services for UW-La Crosse. Lehrke is the Veterans Benefits Coordinator for UW-La Crosse. The pair presented information to help workshop attendees learn about the process that is used to determine how financial aid is provided to help students attend college.
"The first step is to determine your financial needs," Glenn said. "This is figured by subtracting the expected family contribution from the cost of attendance."
Financial needs can be met in a variety of ways. First, parents and/or students need to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which can be done online at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Financial aid opportunities include scholarships and grants that don\'t have to be repaid. Students also may be able to qualify for work, such as through work-study programs, he said. These are good because the federal government subsidizes the wages of work-study participants and makes it more advantageous to hire students to do the work.
Remaining costs often can be paid through savings and/or loans that either students or parents can set aside or qualify for and obtain. Students and their parents can save money for higher education costs through Coverall Educational Savings Accounts or a 529 account. Money in these accounts accrues interest and can be withdrawn and spent - if done in accordance with terms and used for qualifying expenses - without paying federal taxes. The 529s are state plans that also may offer state tax advantages, in addition to the federal tax benefits, if used properly.
Glenn cautioned both parties to be aware of the terms of the various loans available, such as when interest starts accruing and when repayment begins and if they require a co-signer.
"Ideally, students would be able to make it through college without taking out any loans," he said. "But if they need to borrow money, they should borrow just enough to pay for their education."
Another common fallacy of higher education is that it doesn't pay to apply for smaller scholarship amounts, he said.
"You should apply for as many scholarships as possible," Glenn said. "Any scholarship amount you receive means that's less you or your parents have to pay for your education."
Glenn did caution parents/students that scholarships may reduce the amount they have identified as financial need or resources they may be eligible to receive. The first assistance that would be reduced is money available through loans.
Students also should be on the lookout for money/funding that is often under the radar screen. Civic organizations or churches, for example, may decide to set money aside for higher education for qualified students. Private employers may have programs that provide funding for educational costs for children of their employees.
Many institutions, including UW-La Crosse, have foundations that provide aid. More information about the UW-La Crosse foundation is available at http://www.foundation.uwlax.edu/schfreshmen.html. The general Web site for UW-La Crosse financial aid at http://www.uwlax.edu/finaid also includes a financial cost calculator, Glenn said.
Students and parents on a tight budget also shouldn't eliminate out-of-state educational opportunities just because they have high price tags for nonresident students. Sometimes, financial aid or reciprocity agreements can lower college costs enough to make them affordable to families.
Reciprocity agreements, which allow nonresident students to pay resident costs of their comparable state colleges, most often are found between border states, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Lehrke said military personnel and their families also have many specialized programs that can assist them with college costs.
The GI Bill is available to eligible veterans. Effective Aug. 1, personnel who served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, will be eligible for the Post 9-11 GI Bill. The Department of Veterans Affairs is developing guidelines to manage how the programs will interact. Spouses or family members may be eligible to use benefits if their veteran spouses have a disability rating of 30 percent or more. Veterans who entered service from Wisconsin may be eligible for benefits under the Wisconsin GI Bill.
"The process starts at almost every institution by seeing someone like me," Lehrke said. "Many of the applications can be done electronically." Bryan Clarkin, ACS Financial Readiness Program director, said ACS sponsored the workshop to provide support to the Fort McCoy community about a very important issue. "The workshop showed our realization and support of the importance of having a well-educated and trained work force," Clarkin said. "Education also provides spouses and family members with opportunities for growth and development."