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Students on financial aid quadruples at Sierra College

District financial aid night Tuesday
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Local college students need financial assistance to pay for school more now than 10 years ago, Sierra College financial aid statistics indicate. “We provided $2 million in student loans in ‘02-’03. At the end of ‘10-’11 we were at almost $11 million,” said Linda Williams, Director of Financial Aid for Sierra College. “It’s their economy that is doing this to them.” Financial aid awarded to Sierra College students through federal and state grants has more than quadrupled in the past 10 years. Williams said in the 2002-2003 school year $5 million was award to 2,600 students. In 2010-2011 that rose to $23 million and 6,810 students. Williams said during that time period Sierra’s enrollment numbers have either remained the same or dropped slightly. The Board of Governor’s Fee Waiver is a program that waives tuition and many other fees for community college students who meet minimum income requirements. Williams said the number of students awarded the waiver has also increased significantly. Get the facts on funds The Placer Union High School District is hosting a Financial Aid Night at Placer High School Tuesday. Parents and students can learn ways to get assistance paying for college. About 60 percent of Placer High graduates go to a community college after high school, while 25 to 35 percent go straight to a four-year university, according to Placer High counselor Neil Polaske. Williams said the key for incoming Sierra, or any college students, is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early. The U.S. Department of Education is mandating that more applications be audited for verification than in past years. The audits take extra time for processing paperwork, which Williams said Sierra doesn’t have extra staff to accomplish as quickly as the demand. “It is “Mr. Ed” — that’s what we call the Department of education. They target files to be selected for that second review and we don’t even know who that’s going to be. We have seen an increase in verifications,” Williams said. “In my situation, it will cause people to get the aid later in the semester.” Polaske said there are also ways for students looking at colleges out of state to pay lower tuition. Certain out-of-state universities are part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange, including the University of Nevada, Reno. Participating universities offer California students a discounted tuition rate. WUE students pay 150 percent the price of resident tuition. It’s programs like that Polaske hopes students are able to learn more about through attending financial aid night. The biggest change this year to the financial aid process is the district will now be able to submit every student’s GPA to the Federal Student Aid office without their written consent. This is one component that requires completion before students can receive public financial aid. In the past, students had to sign a release. Now students have to notify the school if they do not want their information sent. Social Security Numbers will not be sent as in past years, but contact information will. This change will give more students, especially those who decide they want to go to college late in the year, the chance to still get financial aid. One college mom’s advice Mary Collins has two children that graduated from Placer and are currently in college. Her daughter Natalie went straight to Santa Clara University, while her son Sean went to Sierra and transferred to UC Davis. She has two other children who currently attend Placer. With so many of her children in or headed to college being on track with the financial aid process is important for her family. “My advice is to get on it and get on it as fast as possible. It’s very overwhelming the first year. The second and third year you understand the process,” Collins said. Completing taxes is a key component for most of the paperwork, she said. Both of her children chose different paths toward a degree, but will end up with their bachelor’s at the end. She said parents and students should consider the pros and cons of each option. “(Sean) saved so much money just by going to Sierra College, two years worth of tuition and living expenses,” Collins said. “The problem with the student aid for us with so many students going to UCs is it’s hard to qualify. A lot of these families hit the middle income threshold.” Collins said that while private schools, like her daughter’s, do cost more, they also have additional endowments and private financial aid available to supplement tuition. The 2012-2013 FAFSA deadline for most schools is March 2. Those taking spring or summer college courses also need to have a 2010-2011 FAFSA completed as soon as possible. “Right now, they need to do that early,” Williams said. “There isn’t a financial aid office anywhere that is properly staffed.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com. ______________________________________________________ What: Placer Union High School District Financial Aid Night When: Tues., Dec. 6, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Where: Placer High School, 275 Orange St., Auburn Event Details: Students and parents in the Placer Union High School District can gain information on financial aid for college. Presentations will be made by the California Student Aid Commission. Topics include Cal Grants, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), loans and scholarships.