College for all Texans, finding financial aid

By Gillian Sheridan - bio - email

Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - If you are a parent or worker who has lost their job then you may be wondering how to pay for your child's college. Money is available through the state to help fund college for you or your child, and even more money is headed to students to help pay for college.

It was just announced that the stimulus plan will include a $500 increase in the pell grant, going up to $5450 per year. Once again this year, KLTV has been given an exclusive opportunity to make sure every East Texan has the chance to get a higher education and knows how to apply for that money. Despite these troubled times, there is still lots of money available for a college education.

Ashton Woods grew up near Nacogdoches.

"Being a single mom, there was no way she could send me to school," said Woods.

Now Woods is a student at Tyler Junior College thanks to financial aid.

"I have a few student loans and I have a few grants as well," said Woods.

Kasey McClelland is a student at Angelina College in Lufkin. She too knows the importance of financial aid.

"I've been able to go to college due to my family not being able to make as much money so I do qualify for the FAFSA," said McClelland.

Both students are receiving some of the $4-billion available every year in Texas to pay for college. It comes in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study programs and low-interest loans. It's money that's not always used.

"Yes, there is frequently a lot of money left in specific types of programs," said Susan Jones the financial aid director for Angelina College.

She said many students don't apply because they don't think they qualify.

"The first question out of my mouth is have you completed the FAFSA, which is the Free Application for Financial Aid," said Jones.

That application determines a student's financial needs. All the student needs is a desire for higher education. They say college pays, and in this case that definitely seems to be true. Experts say a Texan with a college education will earn at least $1 million more in his or her lifetime than someone with just a high school diploma.

"The statistics show that the higher level of education that you have the more likely you are to get a job and keep that job so the unemployment rate is lower the higher you go in the educational levels," said Devon Wiggins, TJC's financial aid director.

That said, Wiggins admits that in today's work force, keeping that job can be a challenge. They have seen a 20% increase in enrollment due, in part, to East Texans losing their jobs. They are non-traditional students who are also receiving financial aid.

"We have done all we can to try to help them through this situation in their lives and to help them come back to college and re-train so they have a better chance of finding another job," said Wiggins.

"My mom actually has changed jobs through all of this so that was a big deal because she didn't have one for a little while so was really just a really big blessing to be able to have financial aid here because, I mean without it, I wouldn't be in college," said Ashton.

And with more uncertain times ahead, experts say help is available. You just need to apply and do it now.

"As financial aid administrators, we can go in and we can sit down and re-calculate a student's financial aid with some information to what the reality is going to be in 2009," said Jones.

Both Woods and McClelland know that investing in an education today will be worth it in the future. McClelland is planning on a job in respiratory care.

"It is expensive being a student but if you have help it is possible to attend college without drowning in debt," said McClelland "You're going to go further in life if you have a secondary education."

Woods wants to be a teacher.

"I wanted to do something with myself and even though I was really undecided at first," she said. "When I came I knew that if you really wanted to be a success you have to get a college education now, especially now with all the jobs that seem to be gone."

When you look at the FAFSA application, it can be overwhelming, but we are going to help you with that. For the second year, we have been given an exclusive opportunity to work with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer our viewers a live phone bank Thursday night to get you immediate answers to financial aid questions.

Gillian will be in Austin joined by a slew of experts taking your calls. It was a huge success last year with more than 24-hundred calls, and with the economy there may be even more calls this year.

The bottom line is that you don't know until you apply what you qualify for and right now is the time for people to apply for financial aid. Once you've done your taxes, fill out the FAFSA because that's where you'll pull your information from for this application.

Again, help will be at your fingertips Thursday night during the live phone bank in Austin from 5-11pm.

In the meantime, for more information go to the "Big Red Box" then select "College for all Texans." There, you can look over the free application before Thursday night and then call with any questions. We'll have the phone number for you Thursday when the phone bank is open all through the night.

The number to call for the College for all Texans phone bank is: 1-888-311-8881.