Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Last-minute applications and financial aid heroics

An Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter called me for assistance in identifying students and parents for a story about “drop offs” - students brought to campus to register just before fall semester begins without securing housing, financial aid, or taking any of the necessary steps to begin school on the right foot. For a moment, I wanted no part of this assignment, but as I honed in on the premise, I saw an opportunity to tell the real story behind what HBCUs like FVSU do to usher students into college.

FVSU meets a need that major institutions don’t – one that they don’t have patience to deliver: personal, individualized service to first-generation college students trying to navigate the maze of the financial aid process, most times without the help of parents. This week I’ve seen the patience and true character of the financial aid staff and FVSU family as they walked students from one office to the next, helping them complete FAFSA forms and loan applications.

I talked to freshman Sekema Tannahill, who shared her story. Admittedly she missed the deadlines for filing paperwork and arrived on campus a week before the start of school. Her mother walked the student through the process the first semester but refused to do it the second time around, after she didn’t make acceptable grades.

For every student who dragged his or her feet in submitting verification forms, FAFSAs and the required tax documents from parents, others filed on time. However in some cases, parents didn’t qualify for loans or couldn’t pick up the slack where financial aid left off. Anticipating the money gap, FVSU’s Office of External Affairs, directed by the president, mailed 12,000 letters to alumni asking for donations to help students pay tuition, living expenses and books.

I received a call from a parent trying to reach the financial aid office. Four people live in the household on a meager sum. The mother was making sure she signed all the paperwork to get financial aid for her son, who is now on campus. Attending college is his one-way ticket out of the cycle of poverty.

Scholarship funds from community groups and alumni are trickling in. Flint Energies Foundation gave $5,000. The Peach County Development Authority wrote a check for $8,000. Zellner’s Chapel, a small, under-50-member church located across from the campus’s main entrance donated $24,000 to help students like this.

From showing students how to properly fill out forms and offering advice about classes to digging, scratching, fighting and finagling for scholarship funds, I am amazed at the miracles worked every day on this campus to get students into school. I have a renewed appreciation for FVSU as it seeks to fulfill its mission.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution decided not to go ahead with the story. Even so, I’m glad the reporter asked for my help. I got the chance to step away from the hustle and bustle of my office to witness firsthand the nurturing work that occurs in Wildcat Country. Not every student our counselors reach out to help can cut it in college, but for every one who does, God bless ‘em - the effort is well worth it.

Vickie Oldham is Director of Marketing & Communications at Fort Valley State University.


Anonymous said...

My daughter has been trying to work with financial aid for a couple of weeks and we too are financially strapped. I have two daughters at FVSU and without some form of additional aid I just don't know how my daughter is going to stay. She has received work study previously but was told she had to be put on a waiting list because most of the positions were filled by freshmen. There were other loans offered to her and we accepted them but now all of a sudden the offer was rescinded. I do believe FVSU is doing the very best it can but there are still students that are slipping through the cracks and/or pushed aside. I myself never attended college. I have two kids who are proud to be attending FVSU but are feeling kinda let down.

Robert L. Walker said...

I thank GOD for FVSU! Sure there are students who fall through the cracks, but if those same students would show up at ANY other university during their freshman year with out completing their FASA paper work; no one would fall through the cracks. There wouldn’t be any cracks to fall through. All of them would be sent home immediately. FVSU is truly a unique university. This would have to be by far, the most caring university in nation!

To All Alumni: We need your help and we need it now! Dr. Rivers and the staff are constantly making history in Valley. Please send anything you can $5.00, $10.00, $20.00 or $25.00 any contribution would keep the Valley on this history making journey. The last blog stated that 12,000 letters were mailed out. If everyone would just give $25.00, that would be $300,000.00 towards scholarships. That would go a very long way to helping those students whom for whatever reason doesn’t have the money to attend school during their freshman year.

Maybe they haven’t completed their FASA paper work; but is this truly their fault, especially when they are first generation college student? Their parent wouldn’t have a clue on the preparation for college. Many of these students are raised by their grand parents and many of them certainly wouldn’t have clue on what it take to prepare for college. Maybe they have completed all required paper work but they are still short $2,000.00, simply because student loans are not as plentiful as they were when we were in school. Maybe they can’t get a student loan simply because their parents have poor credit; this was truly out of their control.

Many of us who haven’t been associated with the education system recently, are unaware that getting a student loan often requires a co-borrower now, unlike the old days, we didn’t have to have a co-borrower. Regardless of the situation, these students need our help and they need it now!

Thank you advance for any amount! Please make your contribution out to the FVSU foundation.

Robert L. Walker
Class of 1993

sbo said...