2021 news archives

Milwaukie high school seniors win four $6,000 scholarships

The following article is from Pamplin Media Group

July 1, 2021

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Four students from Milwaukie are among 56 high school graduates from the class of 2021 each receiving $6,000 scholarships as ECMC Scholars.

MHS students and scholarship winners Savana Ramirez, Kiara Burris, Kairi Reyes and Nayzeth Herrera all have college plans and will be attending the University of Oregon, University of Montana and Clackamas Community College.

For the past two years, these students participated in a comprehensive mentoring program designed to help build academic and life skills. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, students were selected to participate in the program based on their potential — not solely on their academic merit. Working in collaboration with school staff and the ECMC Scholars Program team, students spent their junior and senior years of high school actively preparing for postsecondary education.

"The class of 2021 ECMC Scholars are amazing. Their world was turned upside down with the pandemic and virtual learning during their senior year of high school. I'm so proud of each of these students," said Jan Smith, ECMC Scholars program manager.

Each scholarship recipient has been given the opportunity to receive personalized near-peer college coaching services provided by Beyond 12, which provides academic, social and emotional support students need to persist in postsecondary education.

"Now more than ever, it is important to provide students with a holistic approach to helping them get to and through postsecondary education," said Paula Craw, vice president of outreach for ECMC. "The ECMC Scholars Program is designed to help students with challenges that may prevent them from reaching their education goals."

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ECMC awards $930,000 in college scholarships to 155 students in Connecticut, Oregon and Virginia

ECMC press releases

June 28, 2021

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ECMC is proud to recognize 155 high school graduates from the class of 2021 who completed the ECMC Scholars Program. These students come from select high schools across Connecticut, Oregon and Virginia, and each earned a $6,000 scholarship.

For the past two years, these students participated in a comprehensive mentoring program designed to help build academic and life skills. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, students were selected to participate in the program based on their potential—not solely on their academic merit. Working in collaboration with school staff and the ECMC Scholars Program team, students spent their junior and senior years of high school actively preparing for postsecondary education.

"The class of 2021 Scholars are amazing. Their world was turned upside down with the pandemic and virtual learning during their senior year of high school. I'm so proud of each of these students," said Jan Smith, ECMC Scholars program manager.

The scholarship funds can be used for enrollment in a degree or certificate program at an accredited college, university or career and technical education institution. In addition, each scholarship recipient has been given the opportunity to receive personalized near-peer college coaching services provided by Beyond 12, which provides academic, social and emotional support students need to persist in postsecondary education.

"Now more than ever, it is important to provide students with a holistic approach to helping them get to and through postsecondary education," said Paula Craw, vice president of outreach for ECMC. "The ECMC Scholars Program is designed to help students with challenges that may prevent them from reaching their education goals."

Over the past 17 years, ECMC has awarded $19.4 million in scholarships to 3,174 students in Virginia, Oregon and Connecticut.

Connecticut press release: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/ecmc-awards-324-000-in-college-scholarships-to-54-students-in-connecticut-301320346.html

Oregon press release: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/ecmc-awards-336-000-in-college-scholarships-to-56-students-in-oregon-301320345.html

Virginia press release: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/ecmc-awards-270-000-in-college-scholarships-to-45-students-in-virginia-301320349.html

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W&L seniors win ECMC scholarship

The following article is from News on the Neck

June 4, 2021

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Two Washington & Lee High School seniors, Kanasia Garner and Ashaunti Redmond, were awarded with a $6,000 scholarship from ECMC Scholars program. This program is a two-year mentoring program that focuses on education and career goals. Students begin the program in their junior year and finish with the opportunity for a scholarship. This is the first time that two W&L students have been awarded the $6,000 scholarship.

The program is currently seeking fifteen 10th graders who meet the eligibility requirements for the ECMC program. Students must demonstrate individual determination to succeed; plan to pursue a college education; be entering the eleventh grade and plan to graduate in 2023; demonstrate financial need; submit required ECMC forms, be a first generation student, be a minority, qualify for free or reduced lunch, and have a 2.0 minimum GPA.

This is a free program for selected students. The program is designed so you can complete a series of activities and events throughout the two-year period. The deadline of the program has been extended to June 4.

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Planning for college

The following article is from KTVU-TV (FOX)

May 24, 2021

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Monique Adorno-Jiménez, director of ECMC's The College Place in Northern California, spoke to the FOX News affiliate in San Francisco about navigating the path to college.

Click here to watch the segment.

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FAB Life returns to teach students how expensive it is to be an adult

The following article is from East Oregonian

May 24, 2021

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Joshua Farias needed a roommate.

The single father of two, making $36,480 per year as a restaurant manager, was almost out of money for the month but still needed to pay for utilities, a car and clothing for himself and his children. So he asked around until he found someone willing to pay half the mortgage for a room in his three-bedroom home.

Fortunately for Farias, he isn’t actually a father of two, just a Hermiston High School senior participating in a budgeting simulation meant to teach students about the cost of living. And he learned, to his surprise, just how expensive adult life can be.

“Housing is the most expensive,” he said.

The budgeting exercise, known as FAB Life, took place on May 19-20 at the high school. Seniors were each given a scenario sheet detailing aspects of their “life,” including their profession, annual salary, monthly take-home pay, married status and number of children. They had to then visit booths around the gym, staffed by volunteers who explained their spending options to them.

At the child care booth, students were given options ranging from public child care centers to a nanny, with price tags based on the number and age of their children. Kory Terry and Miranda Cranston, who were running the booth, said students were often surprised at the cost.

“They’re giving us ‘wow’ eyes, like, ‘Are you serious?’” Terry said.

Important choices
Cranston said a few students said it was important to them that their child got the best care possible and hired a nanny, but most students chose the cheapest option.

A few booths down, Candelario Rodriguez was giving students a price for their car insurance, based on the vehicle they had chosen at the transportation booth. He said he was surprised how many students had chosen to drive a used car, even if they were single and making a high salary.

When a girl visited his booth and shared the type of car she had purchased, he talk to her about the importance of purchasing car insurance before letting her know it would be $85 a month.

While most of the booths caused students to add a new expense to their budget, those who were running out of money could visit the supplemental income booth to find out ways they could increase their revenue.

Lori Spencer went over options with students that ranged from picking up a second job in the evenings to holding a yard sale for a one-time infusion of cash. Some students who visited the booth learned that as a single parent they were entitled to child support. One student decided he was going to have his teenage daughter babysit to help cover rent.

“I’m surprised at seeing some of them with higher income already coming to me,” Spencer said after a student making $77,643 said she was running out of money and still had more booths to visit.

Kaylie Cook, whose scenario sheet said she was making $65,944 a year as a single nurse practitioner with no children, said she didn’t know how some students with lower salaries were going to make it.

“I make a good amount of money but I feel like I’m going to run out by the end of this,” she said.

Stretching dollars
Cook said one thing she had learned from the exercise is that when she is an adult, she’ll need to budget carefully so she doesn’t run out of money before she is finished paying all her bills for the month.

Giselle Gutierrez and Jose Cortez, who were waiting together in line for the housing booth, were making much less than Cook — about $34,000 and $32,000 respectively. When asked what had been the biggest surprise so far, Gutierrez said it was the cost of health insurance.

“I got lucky with insurance, because mine is company sponsored, so it’s cheaper,” Cortez chimed in.

Gutierrez said the exercise was making her feel bad for her parents, and all the budgeting choices they have to make.

“My husband doesn’t even work,” she exclaimed, looking at her scenario sheet. “What is he doing?”

Liz Marvin, a counselor at Hermiston High School, said she was glad the high school was able to bring back FAB Life for a second year, despite the pandemic. In 15 years of providing educational opportunities for students at the school, she said, “this is the highest student engagement of anything we’ve done.”

The kit with scenario sheets for students and price sheets for the volunteers was provided by ECMC Group, a student loan guaranty agency that also teaches financial literacy. It also came with other simulation pieces, such as “crystal ball” cards that teachers walk around and hand students.

“Those are the random things in life — Grandma sent $50 for your birthday, your car broke down,” Marvin said.

She said many students expressed that they hadn’t realized how many expenses they would have each month once they moved out on their own. The goal of the exercise was for students to create a balanced budget on their own, but if they needed help, they could turn to an “SOS” advisor to take a look and walk them through some suggestions of where they might cut some expenses.

“In the first group there was a couple whose sheets said they were both single, and they said, ‘Can we get married?’ and I said sure, and they split their expenses,” Marvin said.

She said the high school couldn’t have done the FAB Life exercise this year without the support from the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce and the Hermiston Walmart Distribution Center, which provided most of the volunteers for the booths and prizes — including two television sets — for students to enter a drawing after completing their scenario.

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12 About Town: Helpful financial tips for college

The following video is from NBC12 Richmond

May 12, 2021

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Tomika Brown, director of ECMC's The College Place Richmond, spoke to NBC12 about navigating the path to college.

Follow this link to watch the video.

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The framework of the future

The following article is from Digger Magazine

May 10, 2021

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It might not seem like much, but for Justin Schulze, plant breeder for Bailey Innovations, a division of Bailey Nurseries, the money he was able to cobble together through college scholarships was critical to launching his career.

“Those scholarships can allow us to go to something like Farwest [Show], meet up with other industry people, and that can make a big difference when you are trying to start a career,” Schulze said, “Making those connections is really important, and there is not always funding for grad students to go to trade shows.”

Schulze is one of numerous scholarship recipients from the Oregon Association of Nurseries (OAN) now working in Oregon agriculture, including many working directly for Oregon nurseries. OAN has been awarding scholarships since the 1970s through the Oregon Nurseries Foundation.

Schulze, who is married with two children, said he was fortunate to have his tuition covered but found it a struggle to make ends meet while pursuing his master’s degree in horticulture at Oregon State University.

“I was applying for every scholarship that I could find to just fill the gaps in our financial situation,” Schulze said. “Every little thing makes a difference.”

He applied with Bailey Nurseries before obtaining his masters’ degree in horticulture and started with the company just weeks after graduation.

Today Schulze is involved in breeding small trees and shrubs and End-of-Summer® hydrangea for Bailey Innovations in Athens, Georgia.

“It feels good to be working in the field I got my degree in,” he said. “When I had my undergraduate degree, I worked jobs where I didn’t feel like I was applying what I had learned. Now that I completed grad school and got the degree, I am working exactly at what I studied, and it feels good.”

A source of pride

Anne Marie Richards, who joined her family’s business, Motz & Son Nursery in Portland, after graduating from OSU in 2016 with a degree in agriculture science, received a scholarship through the Oregon Nursery Foundation in 2015.

The money was helpful, she said. Equally rewarding was the pride the scholarship brought her family. “It made my family proud that the industry was recognizing my efforts to join the family business, that the industry was giving me an encouragement going into my new venture in life,” Richards said.

Richards wears multiple hats at the nursery, including managing the business’s spraying and integrated pest management, managing the company’s human resources division, trucking, and performing inventory management and production scheduling.

Knowledge and insight she gained in soil science and nursery management classes have been particularly useful over the years.

“Probably one of the biggest lessons I learned while at OSU is how to work with people,” she said. “I think in the ag science program, you do more of that than in other programs, just because there is more lab work and field work.”

Richards today is enrolled in the masters of business administration program at the University of Portland and expects to have her graduate degree this month.

Signe Danler, a 2012 scholarship recipient, was in her 50s when she secured an Oregon Nursery Foundation scholarship to help fund a career change into the horticulture field.

Danler said she always had an interest in plants and eventually secured a master’s degree in agriculture science that she used to land a position as instructor in the Master Gardener Online Program at OSU. The program, which had been dormant for two years before she revitalized it, has been hugely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, at one time even crashing the OSU online system when a vegetable class went viral last year.

Danler, who had one son living at home while she was pursuing her degrees in horticulture, said obtaining scholarships was vital in her ability to pay for school.

“I am quite sure I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise,” she said.

Twenty scholarships a year

The OAN awards 20 scholarships a year, up from 19 a year ago after the Arthur Spada family recently created a scholarship. Between 15 and 20 students are awarded each year, with some qualifying for multiple scholarships. Awards range from $500 to $1,500 per scholarship.

A mix of donations from OAN chapters and association funds fills the foundation’s coffers.

Jennifer Satalino, director of The College Place-Oregon, an organization that helps match students to scholarships, said scholarships provide several benefits to students.

“First, there is the money, and anytime someone is giving you money to go to college, that is money that you don’t have to save, you don’t have to earn and you don’t have to pay back,” Satalino said.

“Second, there is that recognition. It gives you bragging rights and it makes you feel good that someone who is not related to you has recognized your value and your work, and that can be huge,” she said.

“And some scholarships, like the Ford Family Foundation, also have academic coaches and life coaches, and they do leadership conferences for the students that they are funding,” she said. “So, there can be a lot of other benefits.”

“But anything that keeps you from borrowing student loans is a fantastic thing,” Satalino said. “I think it is really important for every student to look for scholarships.”

Oregon is unique in that the state has a sort of clearing house for college scholarship applications. The Office of Student Access and Completion works to allow students to fill out one form that will enable them to apply for up to 40 scholarships.

“Most students won’t find 40 that are relevant to them,” Satalino said. “But if you can find five good scholarships to apply for on OSAC, that is great.”

Applying through OSAC also is a good primer for applying for other scholarships,” Satalino said. “After you get through that, everything else seems a lot easier.”

Also, a simple Google search for scholarships can bring up some viable options.

“I would just pull up the Google search engine and type in horticulture scholarships and open anything that catches my eye,” she said.

Typically, the most lucrative scholarships available to students come directly from a college or university.

“There are some really generous private scholarships out there,” she said, “especially here in Oregon. But they are the outlier. Usually, you are going to get a lot of funding directly from the college or university. So, it really makes sense for students to check out the scholarships available to them at the institutions they are interested in, and to know the application process and know the deadline.”

“Then you want to start looking at local scholarships,” she said.

Specialty scholarships provided by organizations like the OAN can be valuable, in part because application pools are smaller than general scholarships, which narrows the competition for the scholarships.

Variety of qualifications

Scholarships have a variety of qualifications, Satalino said. Some are merit based, some need based. Some require high grade point averages. Some, like the Ford Family Foundation scholarships, don’t.

“The thing about scholarships is that their criteria vary by who is donating money,” Satalino said. “Kenneth Ford, who founded Roseburg Lumber Products, was not the valedictorian of his graduating class, and he wasn’t the lowest scoring student. He was just in the middle. So, when he set up the scholarship program, it wasn’t for overachievers or underachievers, it was just for good solid kids who are going to grow up and become leaders in their community.”

Scholarships available through the Oregon Nursery Foundation have several different criteria, according to Stephanie Weihrauch, director of finance and administration for OAN, with one constant.

“Our goal is to provide scholarships for those who are going into the nursery industry,” she said. “So, you have to be in a field related to horticulture. We have some in landscape design. We have some students majoring in business who are children of OAN members and plan to take over the family business. They qualify as well.”

The foundation typically fields around 30 applicants, she said. Last year, 27 applied.

“These and other scholarships available to students interested in our industry are extremely important resources,” Weihrauch said. “We in this industry want to nurture this interest in horticulture and nursery management and want to help them to be able to get that education.”

People interested in donating to the scholarship program at the Oregon Nursery Foundation can go to www.oan.org/page/onfdonate.

More information on The College Place-Oregon can be obtained by going to www.ecmc.org/students/tcp-oregon.html. Satalino can be reached at jsatalino@ecmc.org.

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“Scholarship resumes” and other ways to reduce college costs

The following article is from Medium

April 20, 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a marked shift in student attitudes toward higher education, particularly among high school students who are more aware than ever that the choices they make will have a lasting impact on their financial and professional future. Given that, many are rethinking their post high school graduation plans.

In fact, according to a recent national survey of Gen Z teens age 14–18 from ECMC Group’s Question The Quo campaign, there has been a nearly 20 percent drop in the last eight months in students considering four-year college, with many wanting a shorter educational path to a career. In addition, the number one thing high schoolers want to change about higher ed is the cost.

No matter which path students choose, understanding how to reduce higher education costs and think critically about financial aid is a good idea.

Scholarships continue to be a go-to for reducing the cost of college, with options for students from all backgrounds with all levels of academic achievement and extracurricular participation. To make the most of their experiences, we suggest students create a “scholarship resume” that lists not only their academic interests, but also their experiences outside of the classroom, whether they be organized activities and sports, or part-time jobs and work at home. This resume provides an overview of their accomplishments — often quite impressive to the student when compiled–and also helps them determine the range of scholarships that may be available to them.

In addition, students should apply for as many scholarships as they can, particularly given the work/reward ratio. Students who spend an hour or two each week applying for scholarships can earn hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars towards college. Imagine spending an hour writing an essay that can be used to apply for several scholarships. If that hour-long writing project results in two $500 scholarships–$1,000 earned in a short period of time is an impressive rate of return.
Students should also research whether their parents’ employers provide any type of tuition assistance or reimbursement for family members.

There are also ways to reduce the cost of college beyond scholarships.

  • Start college before “college.” Many students have the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school with Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Earning an acceptable grade on the AP exam will earn them college credit even before stepping foot on a college campus while providing the experience of the rigors of college-level course work. Students may also take dual-enrollment or summer learning courses at their local community college. We’ve worked with several individuals who have even been able to complete two full years of college course work even before their high school graduation.
  • Be selective and read the fine print. Students enrolling in college often are unaware that there is flexibility to adjust their college expenses in ways that will not compromise the quality of their education. For example, some college costs are fixed and cannot be changed (i.e. tuition, fees, etc.), while others are variable and depend on the student’s choices. These variable expenses (what you want vs. need) include things like entertainment and clothing. Another option is to consider taking the general education requirements–often the first two years of college–at a nearby community college where the cost per credit is typically significantly lower than a four-year university. Just make sure the credits earned will transfer to the college of choice in order to reap the greatest savings.
  • Embrace the elements that save money. Other ways to lower costs include living at home vs. on campus, walking/biking or using public transportation instead of a personal vehicle, renting textbooks rather than buying, or looking for low or no-cost entertainment options in the community. Many colleges provide free events for students and many businesses in college communities provide student discounts.

As students rethink their options, many are focused on the overall return-on-investment of education. Yes, the cost of tuition is important, but students should also consider the time it takes to complete a degree or program, how much money it will cost aside from tuition, and ultimately, whether that path connects directly to a job that will allow them to repay loans if they decide to take on debt.

With a little planning and preparation, students can successfully reduce their higher education costs and also improve their financial situation in the future.

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Fewer students apply for college financial aid amid pandemic; "It's like walking in blind"

The following article is from WTVR-TV Richmond

March 26, 2021

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As the number of students filling out financial aid applications dropped in Virginia, organizations across the state came together for an initiative to help students with the process.

Tomika Brown, Director of ECMC's The College Place Richmond said on average Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion was down nearly 10% across the state, but for students who needed it most in low-income areas, they were seeing dips of more than 30%.

"The FAFSA is the free application for Federal Student Aid, and it is the gatekeeper for all financial aid. A student cannot be awarded any merit or need-based financial aid without a school having a completed FAFSA on file," said Brown. "Because of the pandemic, students aren't able to access help in the ways that they have been able to do so historically."

In response to that need, the Virginia College Access Network partnered with several of the state's college access providers to give students one-on-one support.

Students needing help completing their FAFSA can schedule an online appointment at VirginiaCan.org, Monday through Sunday, and an advisor will walk them through.

"By clicking this link, anyone in the state can get support in completing their FAFSA," said Brown.

17-year-old Brunswick High School senior, Dulce Ruby Trejo, said preparing for college amid the pandemic had been challenging.

"It's a scary thing being first generation, because it's really like walking in blind," said Trejo. "I really have no idea where to start, or what to fill out first."

Trejo said her guidance counselor helped her get in touch with Tomika Brown -- and Brown's support had made all the difference.

"She's really helped me," said Trejo.

Together, they completed Trejo's FAFSA in October. Trejo expects to hear back on financial relief she qualifies for soon.

"I don't really like asking my parents for money or for helping out with something," said Trejo. "Giving them a lift off of their financial burden, it would, it really means a lot."

Watch the TV segment: https://www.wtvr.com/news/local-news/va-organizations-help-high-school-seniors-apply-for-college-financial-aid

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New service designed to assist Virginia students applying for financial aid

The following article is from WDBJ-TV Online

March 23, 2021

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Governor Ralph Northam has announced the launch of a free service to assist Virginia students and families applying for financial aid. It also aims to address a COVID-19-related decline in completion rates of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Northam also set a long-term goal for every eligible student in Virginia to complete a FAFSA application each year.

The Virginia College Access Network (VirginiaCAN) and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) have partnered on a statewide effort to offer free, one-on-one FAFSA completion assistance. From March 22 through June 30, 2021, students and families can go to virginiacan.org/fafsa to schedule a virtual meeting and connect with an advisor who can answer questions and walk them through filling out the FAFSA application.

“The FAFSA is the first step in helping Virginia students qualify for thousands of dollars in state and federal grants and scholarships,” said Governor Northam. “Completing the FAFSA can be difficult under normal circumstances, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and shift to remote learning have added to the challenge of assisting our high school seniors with filling out their forms. This free one-on-one advising service will support our goal of ensuring every eligible student in our Commonwealth completes an application, and open the doors to affordable higher education and technical training for even more Virginians.”

Northam says so far in 2021, 4,315 fewer Virginia high school seniors have completed the FAFSA, which is down nearly 10 percent compared to last year and mirrors the nine percent decline in FAFSA completion rates nationally. For students attending Virginia high schools with high concentrations of low-income students, FAFSA completions are down 33 percent, meaning students who have the most to gain from state and federal aid are missing out on thousands of dollars in financial assistance for college and postsecondary training.

According to a 2018 study, about 15,000 Virginia high school seniors who would have been eligible for Pell grants did not complete the FAFSA, amounting to more than $58 million in federal aid not being used by eligible students.

The FAFSA is also part of Governor Northam’s new “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) initiative, which provides financial support to cover tuition, fees, and books to eligible Virginia students who complete a FAFSA. The G3 Program aims to make community college more affordable for low- to middle-income people seeking employment in high-demand sectors such as technology, skilled trades, health care, early childhood education, and public safety.

“The launch of this new advising tool comes at a critical time when we must double down on our efforts to support the future success of our students and our Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “While we have a lot of ground to make up this year, we are committed to helping every Virginia student get the federal student aid they are entitled to, and that starts with connecting them with the resources they need to complete the FAFSA.”

To meet the Governor’s goal of ensuring every eligible Virginia student completes the FAFSA, he has directed Secretary Qarni to convene a work group tasked with forming long-term legislative and budgetary recommendations to improve Virginia’s FAFSA completion rates. This group will include representatives from SCHEV, Virginia Community College System and the Virginia Department of Education, along with other stakeholders and college access experts. The work group will conduct listening sessions with community groups to collect input designed to inform their final recommendations to the Governor.

“Right now, Black, African American, Hispanic, and low-income students are less likely to enroll in college than the state average,” said SCHEV Director Peter Blake. “The Virginia Plan for Higher Education calls for closing gaps in college access, and improving FAFSA completion is the first step in closing those gaps.”

VirginiaCAN, a non-profit organization with a mission to support and enhance post-high school education access and attainment for Virginians, is the lead organization in the new one-on-one FAFSA advising service. The five college access organizations participating in this effort include the Access College Foundation, ECMC’s The College Place, GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP), the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA), and the Virginia College Advising Corps (VCAC).

“Most people who begin a FAFSA are stymied by questions on the form,” writes Joy Pugh, VirginiaCAN Board President and Executive Director of the Virginia College Advising Corps, in a new op-ed published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is where Virginia’s access providers can help. In the spirit of collective impact, these organizations have banded together to meet this critical FAFSA completion need for students and families across the Commonwealth.”

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Virginia high school seniors receive free help with financial aid application process

Access College Foundation, ECMC’s The College Places, GReat Aspirations ScholarshiP Fund (GRASP), and Virginia College Advising Corps to provide one-on-one guidance

March 22, 2021

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Richmond, Va.—With completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) down substantially, organizations across Virginia are coming together to assist students to ensure they are able to complete the process and uncover financial assistance for college.

The Virginia College Access Network (VirginiaCAN) has partnered with several of the state’s college access providers to provide one-on-one free FAFSA assistance during March. This collaboration includes ECMC’s The College Places, the Virginia College Advising Corps (VCAC), Access College Foundation and the GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP).

“The decline in students completing their financial aid applications is troubling, but the good news is, it’s not too late,” said Paula Craw, vice president of student success and outreach for ECMC. “This collaboration among college access providers to bring individualized guidance to these students can increase completion and get more students on track to postsecondary education in our state.”

The collaboration launches at a time when FAFSA completion is down nearly 10 percent compared to this time last year in Virginia. Decreases are most prevalent for students who need financial aid the most—Virginia schools serving a high number of low-income students are down 34 percent, and schools with higher populations of minority students are down 17 percent.

FAFSA completion is the gateway to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid’s more than $120 billion in financial aid to help pay for college. A recent study by the National Center for Education statistics shows that 92 percent of high school seniors who completed the FAFSA enrolled in college by the November following graduation. Only 51 percent of seniors who did not complete a FAFSA enrolled in college in that same time period.

“FAFSA completion is the most important step for students to find their footing on a college pathway, and Virginia’s college access providers are ready to guide the way,” said Joy Pugh, executive director of Virginia College Advising Corps and the current board president of Virginia College Access Network. “There are numerous college access organizations in Virginia making a positive impact on postsecondary access and attainment, contributing to the economic development and strength of our communities.”

Money for college is still available, and several colleges and universities in Virginia pushed back their deadlines for applications and financial aid in recognition of the pandemic’s effects. Virginia’s Community Colleges, firmly grounded in accessibility and affordability, maintain rolling deadlines, and the governor’s new “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) initiative provides financial support to cover tuition, fees and books to eligible Virginia students who complete a FAFSA.

Students in Virginia can receive one-on-one FAFSA assistance by scheduling a meeting through this link: https://calendly.com/fafsa-help

After scheduling a meeting, students will be connected with an access provider from Access College Foundation, ECMC’s The College Places, GReat Aspirations ScholarshiP Fund (GRASP), or the Virginia College Advising Corps.

About VirginiaCAN
VirginiaCAN is a non-profit that brings together and strengthens the many college-access organizations that serve the residents of Virginia.  VirginiaCAN partner organizations share a common goal: to enhance access to post-secondary education for residents of Virginia.

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It's not too late. Financial aid for college is available for Virginia's seniors.

The following article is from the Richmond Times-Dispatch

March 22, 2021

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If you’ve thrown up your hands attempting to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’re not alone.

FAFSA completion rates are down almost 10% in Virginia as compared to the same date last year. That statistic by itself would be disconcerting, but it only tells part of the story. Decreases are prevalent for students who need financial aid the most.

High schools that serve a large number of low-income students are down 33%. Schools with higher populations of minority students are down 17%. Inequities that already were present in education continue to be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Though the decline is troubling, the good news is, it’s not too late. Money for college still is available, and several colleges and universities in Virginia pushed back their deadlines for applications and financial aid in recognition of the pandemic’s effects.

Virginia’s Community Colleges, firmly grounded in accessibility and affordability, maintain rolling deadlines. The governor’s new “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) initiative provides financial support to cover tuition, fees and books to eligible Virginia students who complete a FAFSA.

Given the exceptional quality of higher education institutions in the commonwealth and this year’s adjusted timelines, high school seniors have numerous options for pathways that will serve them well.

We know pathways are useless if too many barriers obstruct the way. Most people who begin a FAFSA are stymied by questions on the form.

This is where Virginia’s access providers can help. Now through June 30, students in Virginia can receive one-on-one FAFSA assistance by going to: https://www.virginiacan.org/fafsa

Schedule a meeting, and you will be connected with an access provider from Access College Foundation, Education Credit Management Corp.’s The College Places, GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program, the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators or the University of Virginia’s Virginia College Advising Corps.

In the spirit of collective impact, these organizations have banded together to meet this critical FAFSA completion need for students and families across the commonwealth.

You also could find another provider that serves your school division or locality. There are several college access organizations in Virginia making a positive impact on postsecondary enrollment and completion, addressing opportunity gaps and working toward equity.

Education after high school is becoming more vital to the economic development and strength of our communities, and the health and well-being of our citizens within those communities.

Why should students and their families spend time on the FAFSA? According to a longitudinal study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, 92% of seniors who completed the FAFSA enrolled in postsecondary institutions by the November following graduation.

Only 51% of seniors who did not complete a FAFSA did so. The difference is staggering. And understandable. It’s hard for most of us to process how to pay for anything that costs thousands of dollars.

FAFSA completion opens up several opportunities. If your family has substantial economic need, you could receive the Pell Grant, up to $6,495 for the 2021-22 academic year.

Pell grants do not need to be repaid except under a few circumstances, for instance, if you withdraw from the academic program for which the grant was given.

For those families with moderate income, FAFSA submission provides access to federal loans at low interest rates, the vehicle by which most students finance their education.

FAFSA completion also is a requirement for most scholarships, including those that are merit-based. And it unlocks institutional financial aid provided by colleges and universities, which truly can be the difference between a student attending or not.

Allow yourself a deep breath and then bring your hands back to the keyboard. You don’t have to tackle this alone. FAFSA completion is the most important step for students to find their footing on a college pathway, and Virginia’s college access providers are ready to guide the way.

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Turn extracurricular activities into scholarships

The following article is from U.S. News & World Report

January 28, 2021

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Extracurricular activities may be overlooked when it comes time to apply for college scholarships, but a student's passions and talents outside of the classroom can translate to significant financial awards.

Prospective and current students hoping to use scholarships to limit both out-of-pocket costs and student loan borrowing can start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to be considered for need-based financial aid. But to earn a scholarship for skills in fields like art or sports, students will need to do research – and some self-reflection.

Scholarships exist for all kinds of extracurricular activities and interests. Monique Adorno-Jiménez, a student success director for ECMC, a nonprofit organization that assists student loan borrowers, says students should create a "scholarship resume" to fully take advantage of all the scholarships that may be available to them.

"This helps a student really start looking at all of the parts of themselves," she says. "Put down your education, your work experience, your volunteer experience, your family responsibilities, your extracurricular activities, any awards and honors, and then any special skills or talents. Even if you're Excel proficient or you're an artist. It gives a much broader view of your abilities."

No interest or experience is too small, Adorno-Jiménez says.

Once a student has considered all of their interests and skills, they can begin the search. Merit scholarships awarded based on a student's passions and interests are numerous and can be found at the local, state and national levels. Both private and public organizations offer them.

The Archibald Rutledge Scholarship Program, for example, which rewards skills in creative writing, dance, music, theater or visual arts, is offered by the South Carolina Department of Education. High school seniors enrolled in a public school in South Carolina submit original compositions, process folios and other art samples for the chance to win one of five scholarships of approximately $2,000 each.

Many states offer similar scholarships that support students in the arts, and Anne Pressley, director of the office of standards and learning at the South Carolina Department of Education, says that supporting students in their artistic and extracurricular endeavors is essential to achieving the state's desired learning outcomes.

"What's extremely important are the talents and skills and interests of each individual student," Pressley says. "I've been a classroom teacher, as most of us at the state department where I work have, and we have experiences with students showing that a student's interests in the arts or extracurriculars can be the thing that keeps them in school, keeps them interested and keeps them connected."

To be successful in pursuing one of these scholarships, Pressley says, "it's about finding your passion, what truly energizes you as a student, and taking it as far as you can."

Students interested in sports can also apply for athletic scholarships, whether through an institution or from an outside organization.

While not all extracurricular activities will lead to a career, some scholarships and fellowships can give students the confidence to pursue their passion full time. Jeffery Allison, director of statewide programs and exhibitions at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, notes that these programs can be a source not just of money but also of a community and network to support future goals.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship Program, for example, offers fellowships to student artists worth up to about $6,000. While many students major in a related field, Allison – a past fellowship recipient himself – says undergraduate and graduate students can use the money for anything, from art supplies and a new camera to even rent and groceries. The fellowship is also open to high school seniors who have been accepted into a postsecondary program.

"You join this club, this list of artists, since 1940 who have won, and many of them have gone on to be hugely famous," Allison says. "We don't have many people who win who are in a totally different major field; you might be majoring in something but then with a minor in photography or painting. And a lot of people end up pursuing a degree in art education to become a teacher. It's all about the work of art and the quality of the artwork."

Some scholarships require that students major in a certain area of study, experts note, and this can be an opportunity for students to find additional scholarship dollars based on their chosen academic area.

Ginny Butsch, community engagement manager at the Educational Theatre Association, says the Ohio-based organization's many scholarships are for students with an interest in the theater, even if it's not part of their career plan. Eligibility varies by scholarship, but opportunities are available to high school seniors and undergraduate and graduate students.

"Theatre teaches incredibly important skills that benefit any career path," Butsch wrote in an email. She encourages students involved in the theater "to do their research and apply for any scholarship they are eligible for, not just a generic Google search, but a deeper dive into the websites of organizations and associations that make musical theatre happen."

No matter a student's interests, whether theater, art or athletics, Adorno-Jiménez urges students to apply for as many scholarships as possible, including those related to volunteer activities and family responsibilities.

"The more you apply to, the higher the odds of actually receiving the scholarship money. I had one student apply to 32 scholarships – any part of who she was she looked for a scholarship in that – and she ended up getting 14," she says. "Even if it's just $500, three or four $500 scholarships add up."

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