The morning of Aug. 9, 2008, was beautiful and crisp, more indicative of fall than summer commencement. Of the 225 graduates, nine in particular had a secret to their success. Those nine were participants in Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Student Support Services program.
What do nearly 80 percent of Pennsylvania College of Technology students have in common? All receive some form of financial aid to pay for their college education.
Penn College draws students from diverse economic backgrounds. Many of our students are the first in their families to attend college; we serve a large population of lower-income, working-class families who seek to provide a better life for the next generation. However, no matter what their level of household income, students and parents are looking for grants, scholarships and student loans to finance their education.
In 2007-08, Penn College students qualified for more than $76.5 million in financial aid including federal and state grants, scholarships, veteran's education benefits, Work-Study, and student and parent loans.
The college's admission representatives get questions about financial-aid opportunities on a regular basis. They are pleased to be able to share information about financial aid - both merit- and need-based - offered by the federal government, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency and the college itself.
It is disheartening when prospective students and parents decide they cannot afford college before even going through the aid process. For first-generation college-bound students, the costs associated with higher education can seem daunting. We try to persuade these individuals to see the big picture and to recognize the potential earning power that's available to them with a post-secondary degree.
We all recognize there are expenses involved in going to college, and families often are reluctant to seek assistance. But the college has the trained staff available to assist with the process. The greatest challenge is encouraging students and families to seek the help they need - it's all about understanding the process.
Penn College's Financial Aid Office offers various year-round programs to get the word out to prospective and current students about the opportunities that exist. Staff emphasize that all students and parents have to do is apply and then follow up on the paperwork; in many cases, it can all be done electronically.
It all starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Without completing the FAFSA form, the world of financial aid is closed to students. It is the No. 1 application that all colleges encourage students to complete. And, the key word is “free.”
There are many companies eager to assist people in pursuing money (scholarships) - for a fee. Their ads, noting that millions of dollars in scholarship funds go unspent each year, certainly attract attention.
To the uninitiated, the services offered by these companies seem to be a great deal. Until, that is, families pay the fee and learn that the same information is provided (at no cost) by the college's Financial Aid Office.
Free scholarship searches - for Penn College and national scholarships - are available on the Financial Aid Office's website: www.pct.edu/finaid.
The second part of the financial-aid picture is student and parent loan programs. While the economy has been in a bit of upheaval lately, Penn College has a full range of lender opportunities for parents and students.
The final stage of the financial-aid process is completing the Penn College Financial Aid Scholarship application. Last spring, the college launched a “one-stop shop” to apply for any Penn College scholarship. Previously, students had to file separate applications for each scholarship that they believed matched their academic background and performance.
With the new process, the Financial Aid Office has eliminated the extra work; students simply need to complete the single application and write a brief essay about their career goals. This has not only simplified the application process for students, but also for faculty and staff, who have pored over thousands of applications in the past year.
Now, it is much easier to evaluate each student with correct, up-to-date information about economic need and academic performance.
This new process has also expedited the awarding process, allowing students to be notified earlier in the year so they may better assess their financial situation. ■
Finding Funds for College
With three siblings in his home in Warrington, Bradley S. Jackson - a junior enrolled in the information technology: security specialist concentration major - was very involved in the search for financial aid, including filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid himself.
While financial aid was not a major factor in Jackson's decision to attend Pennsylvania College of Technology, it certainly helped ease his parents' minds. Jackson and his parents had many discussions about finances and college, including his working a part-time job while in school.
Jackson is a Penn College Student Ambassador and a Resident Assistant in the Rose Street Apartments student-housing complex. Those positions keep him quite busy when he's not in classes.
"The availability of financial aid has reduced my concerns about having to work off campus and incurring those expenses," he said. "Students need to do the hard work of understanding and filing for financial aid, including scholarship essays. The money is out there. You just have to do some work to find it."
Jackson completed a summer internship with Lockheed Martin in King of Prussia. He hopes to work at Lockheed again this summer and eventually be hired at one of the company's facilities.