Sunday, March 25, 2007

Taxonomical Issue 2 _Can I Afford It?

Issue 2. Can I afford it?

Once the primary concern of can I get in is satisfied, an immediate issue come flying forward. Can I pay for this? Though it will seen m at times that some students seem to think that college should be an extension of high school which was free, most will realize that it costs money to go to school.

Often students who are looking to go to a school will actually not encounter the reality of paying for college until they know if they are admitted. They will have a n idea of costs since most will have looked at schools by some sense of cost banding. A cost band is a grouping in their minds such as high, medium and low costs schools in relation to self-conceived economic means and social connections For example, a student from an affluent neighborhood may assume that any of the top Name Brand schools will be affordable because they live in that affluent area and everyone else seems to be applying to Ivies or name brands. So they apply to schools in an affordable “cost band” that others would see as way out of their reach. At the same time, there is a psychological band that is applied to costs as well. The student from the affluent area would not place a community college into their band for instance since that would carry to high an esteem cost. So the bands are a combination of perceived financial and social cost.

I have found it interesting that in the “can I get in stage” actual costs are secondary to gaining acceptance. The hope springs eternal and “first get in and then we’ll figure it out” attitude is prevalent until acceptance. When the letter comes in welcoming a student to the school, then issue 2 takes complete importance. Reality suddenly comes in the door with the welcoming package. What often doesn’t come with the package is enough help and assistance with financial aid.

Yes, most schools send out some details about financial aid and what the family must do but the information usually confuses the hell out of the potential student and parents. Most all of them do not know what to do really.

COMPLETE THE FAFSA ONLINE. To most people these three words are tantamount to “here is your do it yourself proctoscope kit”. I have never found anyone who has ever found completing the FAFSA either easy or enjoyable. Parents hate them and the college should realize this. I am amazed at how many parents do all they can to not complete the FAFSA, either on line or in hardcopy. It reminds them of doing their taxes for one. Other just do not believe they should have to give the government this information. Still yet others just hate forms.

All they need is one excuse not to complete it and they will leave it “for later” or just never get it done. For instance, I have discovered over the years that there is one bit of information that too often provides parents a perfect excuse not to comp0lete and send it in. And that one bit of information is one that you should make sure is right there for them because it affects you directly. It is the college code number. For some reason, we hide these numbers from students and their families.

Try this, go to your financial aid office and see if the code is posted in an unobstructed, easily noticeable location, or in a somewhat prominent spot or for that matter, anywhere. Odds are pretty good it is not. Yet, without that code, students cannot complete their FAFSA. And if they cannot or do not complete it, who is ultimately hurt? Sure the student, but the school too. Without the financial aid the student might get, he or she is not coming there. All the time, effort and money spent to recruit that student is just lost, as is the chance to provide that student the best education he or she could get anywhere. The faculty loses the chance to fulfill its mission to educate that student.

So get the college code out there. Post it in the office. Print it on the forms. Make sure it can be obtained easily on the financial aid section of the website. Also, help people with the form. Provide counselors who actually call to potential students to offer their aid in completing the form. Create an on-line tutorial for parents to use as they try and complete the form. Offer hybrid workshops that will take a group of parents from the start of the form through to the end. Hybrid? On line and by conference call. Also, provide them at the school. Invite parents in to complete their forms with hands-on assistance.

Make sure you help students and their families answer the question Can I afford it? If they do not believe they can, they won’t EVEN IF THEY COULD.

Do you have a payment plan? A way for normal people to make payments for school over a period of time? Most people get paid weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly yet we want it all at one time. Lump sum. No other major investment people make calls for all the money up front. A house – a mortgage. A car- five year loan. Even a doctor’s bill can be charged and paid out over time. College? No always so.

The hardest thing for people to do in paying a college is to save it all up to make a single payment. Life often gets in the way. Yet, if they can plan for regular payments, college can be affordable.

Many students can afford school but not all at once so provide a payment plan that allows them to be able to pay for school over a semester or year or even longer if possible. There are many ways to do this. Twenty percent down and then monthly payments. Run an in-house plan or let a professional like FACTS Management do it for you. FACTS by the way provides a superior level of customer service for students. Charge for the service or not. There are many ways to do it but do it.

If you cannot make college affordable or at least within reach of affordability, students cannot and will not come to school.

And by the way, financial aid people need to be service-oriented. Most of them are great people, who get worn down by upset students who think that they should get all the money they want. "What do you mean I can't have my money? I applied for it yesterday." But to often colleges do not invest enough time, care and recognition in who they have answering that second question Can I afford it? Colleges hire people for these areas for their financial background or because they were too mean to work for the DMV.

Hire service-oriented people who want to help students and not just make sure all the numbers are in the right column. Get people who care and teach them how to help students get all the money to which they are entitled and qualify for.

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