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1921 - William S. Hart marries actress Winifred Westover [story]
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Commentary by Dr. Dianne Van Hook
| Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

Some people see college financial aid as something scary. And not because the application period opens in the same month as Halloween.

They find the application process intimidating, if not overwhelming. But when it comes to completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA, the fear is misplaced.

Sure, it asks for personal financial information. But it’s the key to unlocking significant benefits that can make college affordable. Completing the FAFSA is required for students to be eligible for grants, scholarships, work-study and federal student loans. Without it, students can’t access these resources that put a college degree within their reach.

Too many people get frustrated with the process and give up. They say it’s not worth the hassle and assume they’re probably not eligible for financial aid anyway. That’s not only a faulty assumption, but it’s also a costly one.

Federal financial aid data showed that overall, more than half of U.S. high school graduates were eligible for free aid in the 2017-2018 academic year. But many of them left money on the table.

A NerdWallet analysis showed that high school graduates eligible for a Pell Grant (free federal aid) missed out on $2.5 billion – yes, billion – simply by not applying for financial aid. On a per-student basis, that works out to almost $4,000 on average.

Here at College of the Canyons, the FAFSA is required to access Canyons Promise, which provides eligible full-time students with two years of tuition-free attendance at College of the Canyons, plus book vouchers, parking passes, priority registration and access to helpful support services. Participating students can earn an associate degree and transfer to a four-year university while saving as much as $3,000 in education expenses.

And that’s important to remember because it can help them avoid something truly scary – massive student loan debt. The amount of money that college graduates owe is so large it’s almost beyond comprehension – $1.5 trillion. Yes, trillion with a “t.”

And don’t think those are all new doctors, dentists or pharmacists whose years of schooling leave them with six-figure debts equal to the price of a house. Professional degree holders represent only 2 percent of the total national student loan debt.

Student loans are so pervasive that two-thirds of the class of 2018 graduates earned not only a diploma, but ongoing monthly payments. A 2018 household debt study conducted by NerdWallet shows the average U.S. household owes $47,671 in student debt.

While that should scare you if you are a college student, or the parent of one, don’t be spooked by the FAFSA. Take the fear factor out of it and get help.

The College of the Canyons Financial Aid Department can help you navigate the form so you can be confident it is completed correctly, and that you and your child get an accurate picture of the resources your family is eligible to receive.

Last year, COC received 14,865 FAFSA applications. That led to more than $13 million in Federal Pell grants being awarded to College of the Canyons students, plus another 11,627 California College Promise Grants, the state’s free tuition award for income-qualified students. Altogether, COC’s Financial Aid staff assisted students with over $27 million in financial resources in 2018-2019.

What can they do for you? Don’t be afraid find out. Complete your FAFSA to see what’s available. Get started at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa. It might be the sweetest treat you receive in October.

Dr. Dianne Van Hook is chancellor of College of the Canyons.

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