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Webinar Recap: Community College and Online Programs



As the coronavirus emergency continues to turn the college admissions season upside-down, many students have written to College Confidential with questions about community college and online classes. To address those queries, we hosted a webinar on April 17 entitled “Community College and Online Programs, Evaluating your Options for Post-COVID.”

During the event, moderated by Martha Parham, EdD, senior vice president of public relations with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the following panelists offered their perspectives on the issue:

  • Melina Martinez, current student at Miracosta Community College
  • Kate Smith, president of Rio Salado Community College in Arizona
  • Kevyn Miller, Rio Salado graduate and current student at Arizona State University
  • Kai Drekmeier, president of InsideTrack

Read on for insights that the group provided about community college and whether it might be the right choice for students today.

Community College Enrollments Could Look Different

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a fair amount of uncertainty from students who are unsure about what the future holds, and that could alter what community college enrollments look like this fall.

“We’re seeing a lot of students in holding patterns that are uncertain,” Drekmeier said. “Frankly, colleges are uncertain.” He pointed to three possible options that are under consideration for many schools: delaying the fall semester, opening back up completely like a normal year, or offering distance learning and online courses.

Drekmeier predicts that we could see more students at community colleges in the fall, centered around three main groups:

  • Traditional-age students who would normally pursue an associate’s degree — this number might be up slightly due to fewer job opportunities for part- and full-time employment for recent high school graduates, Drekmeier notes.
  • Adult learners who were laid off or had work hours reduced and want to get an associate’s degree. “In a bad economy or higher unemployment, we do see an increase in enrollments from that group,” he said.
  • Traditional-age students who might normally start at a four-year college or university. “The fact that the traditional residential experience is in question might make some of our viewers today wonder ‘Should I go?,’ and there’s a lot of economic uncertainty,” he noted.

Smith echoed those sentiments, saying that Rio Salado is experiencing enrollment trends that she hasn’t seen in the past. “What we think is potentially happening right now, which would make sense, is a lot of students are in a holding pattern.” They’re not quite ready to enroll and they aren’t sure what life will look like post-coronavirus. “There’s the potential that enrollments will decrease in the short term while people wait to see how life unfolds, there’s also the possibility, though, that enrollments might begin to spike as the economy begins to open back up and people are working again,” she said.

Students Cite Advantages of Community Colleges

Both Miller and Martinez shared their unique paths to community college, as well as the pros and cons of working toward their associate’s degrees before pursuing their bachelor’s degrees. Miller graduated high school in 2006 and knew she always wanted to go to Arizona State University, but didn’t know what she wanted to do, so she started at community college. She was working full-time, taking night classes, but began to get burnt out and took a few years off. In 2010, she started taking some online classes at community college and decided it worked best with her schedule. She loved the diversity and the small class sizes that community college offered, as well as the opportunity to explore what she wanted to do with her life.

Martinez is an undocumented student who became part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) community at 16 and had a job throughout high school. “I was just kind of scared of what a four-year college would look like for me, and it seemed like it would be very expensive. Obviously, every DACA student wants to go to a four-year university, but community college was a lot cheaper and it was less intimidating to explore my interests in terms of taking a lot of classes without being super expensive.” She also loved the flexible schedule, the support system at community college and the small class sizes.

Cost is a strong driver for many students to start out at community college. Parham noted that AACC data indicate that tuition and fees at community college typically come out about 65 percent lower than the cost of public, state-supported, four-year colleges. In addition, community colleges offer a lot of opportunities for students to connect with each other, including extracurriculars, sports teams, career counseling offices, health services, academic teams and other opportunities that many students don’t realize.

Employment opportunities are also more broad for students who go to community colleges. “With an associate’s degree, there are a ton of jobs that are in high demand, even in a down economy, particularly in health care,” Drekmeier noted. In addition, he said, career and technical education opportunities often allow you to get a certificate instead of an associate’s degree, and these can lead to lucrative job options. “These are mid- and high-skill level jobs that pay extremely well, but you need certifications and training and those are offered mostly by our community colleges,” he said. “You can do a lot with an associate’s and you can be paid very well.”

Work With Counselors to Ensure Credits Transfer

If your plan is to eventually transfer from community college to a four-year school, keep in mind that you should ensure that all the credits you take are transferable, and do your very best work, Drekmeier says. “In the California state system, transfer students are doing just as well or better in many cases as students who have come up through that system — no question in my mind that the huge majority of our community colleges are preparing students to succeed in their last couple years at a four-year school.”

Most community colleges are able to work out pathways for students depending on their areas of interest, and advisors can ensure that they take the most transferable credits possible, Smith says.

File for Financial Aid, Ask About Scholarships

Although some students believe that financial aid isn’t an option at community college, the reality is that almost 60 percent of community college students do get some type of aid, Parham said.

Smith advises students to apply for financial aid via the FAFSA, and to also ask about grants and scholarships at the community college they plan to attend. Always ask counselors for help with financial aid if it seems confusing, because you don’t want to miss out on any opportunities for aid, the panelists noted.

By: Torrey Kim
Title: Webinar Recap: Community College and Online Programs
Sourced From:
Published Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 16:42:11 +0000

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Apply Online For Student Loans



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Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid



Many families are facing new financial challenges in light of the coronavirus emergency, and College Confidential has fielded dozens of questions on this topic recently. To address those queries, we hosted a webinar on April 9 entitled “Paying for College Amid Changes Due to the Impact of COVID-19.”

During the event, moderated by Aaron Murphy, manager of learning and development with Inside Track, the following panelists offered their perspectives on the issue:

  • Denise Trusty, director of financial aid with Morehead State University
  • Laura Reisert Kalinkewicz, associate vice president of college partnerships with RaiseMe
  • Amy Nelson, director of sales at International Scholarship and Tuition Services
  • Charlie Javice, founder and CEO of Frank.

Check out the following topics that the panelists discussed, along with their views of how things may unfold amid the financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

Family Finances Changed? Contact Your Schools

If you plan to start college in the fall as a freshman — or return to school as an existing student — and your financial situation has changed since you applied for financial aid, you should contact the colleges on your list immediately. Financial aid departments can consider appeals for more money, but must base these decisions on each individual student’s situation, Trusty said.

“I know with Morehead State, where I work, we will be doing professional judgement calls on all students who say they’ve been affected,” she noted. “We will reach out to those students to see what we can do to help them maybe obtain additional funding, additional grants, scholarships, whatever they would be eligible for. We do professional judgment all the time for our students, because things happen all the time. This year will be an especially large amount of those, I’m sure, but those are up to individual schools to make that call for their students.”

In addition, she added, the Department of Education has set aside over $6 billion for additional grants and scholarships that the universities will be able to use. “Currently, I don’t know how that’s all going to play into this,” Trusty said. “So that will be up to each individual university on how they lay those out. I know it will be beneficial, I just don’t know how available that will be to each student.”

Keep in mind that schools are accustomed to reviewing financial aid appeals, and they all have processes in place for to do so. “It is really, really important to know that schools typically leave a budget from 10 percent to 20 percent or so of their financial aid dollars for what would be called a professional judgment bucket,”Javice said. “Therefore, there is additional money to be had, and it’s up to you to request it. You should approach your school as soon as you know you might need more money, and be prepared to show supporting documentation demonstrating how your finances are different from when you filed your FAFSA initially. This might require proof of a job loss, medical bills, a cut in pay or another such issue, Javice said.

In addition, if another school gave you a better financial offer, you can petition the school that gave you the lower offer for more money, Javice noted. “This typically works better for private institutions versus public state schools, given the fact that they have a little bit more discrepancy and more dollars to put to work in terms of a tuition discount,” she added. “This is solely up to the school on a case by case basis.” In some cases, the money is distributed on a first come, first serve timeline, so don’t wait if you know you need more aid.

Although financial aid can be a stressful topic, try not to be emotional when you request more money, Javice added. You’ll get a lot further by having organized documentation to present than you would by getting angry or upset, she noted.

Consider Outside Scholarships

The coronavirus situation has changed plans not only for incoming freshmen, but also for current college students, Nelson said. “Organizations are stepping up and trying to find ways to provide additional scholarship opportunities this year,” she noted. Students should be proactive in seeking those options.

Raise Me is offering new micro-scholarships for students who are seeking additional funding sources, Kalinkewicz said. In addition, she encourages students to ask colleges for more time to make decisions, even if the school hasn’t extended its deposit process. You can always try and request additional time to get your financial aid package right, she noted.

Finding more money is not relegated to younger students, Javice added. “Adult learners comprise the biggest group of people actually going to college today,” she noted. It’s very common for people to be seeking new types of skills and going back to college to gain additional degrees. Financial aid is available to adult learners, and they may even get aid to pay such costs as rent, she added. In addition, they can seek outside scholarships or employer-matching funds to pay for their educations.

Not Necessarily Too Late to File FAFSA

Students who didn’t file a FAFSA already should do that as soon as possible so you can get access to financial aid funds, Javice said. Federal FAFSA deadlines are usually in June, but states make their own deadlines for state aid. Some states, such as New Jersey, have moved their deadlines back for this year, so check to make sure you stay on top of your deadlines.

And if you file for financial aid and you decide you don’t want it, you can always decline the financial offer or portions of that offer, Nelson said. Your best bet is to apply so you can take what you need and decline any amounts you don’t need. Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should apply anyway because you could be surprised at what you’re offered. “You really need to complete that [FAFSA] process every year,” Nelson said. “The process is very easy, and jobs can come and go. It’s your safety net and you want to make sure you’ve completed it. It makes it a whole lot easier when situations like this arise.”

Some colleges also have supplemental applications to fill out for particular types of aid, so always reach out to your financial aid office for information on which documentation you should be completing, Kalinkewicz said.

Could Families — Not Schools — Be in the Driver’s Seat?

Because many merit scholarships are based on test scores and GPAs, some high school juniors are concerned that they won’t have access to those in the coming year. With test dates being canceled and grades moving to pass/fail, they fear they won’t meet the criteria to earn such scholarships.

“It’s clear to me that colleges and universities know the extraordinary circumstances we’re under,” Nelson said. “All schools are leaning forward and considering all options as the situation develops. I would continue to encourage juniors to stay engaged and stay informed.” You should also watch to see what happens with test dates, she said. The ACT and SAT dates could change, and some schools may forego the need for a test score altogether, she added.

In addition, some merit scholarships that have traditionally been based on test scores may become test optional, Kalinkewicz noted.

Keep in mind that in many cases, families are in the driver’s seat rather than having the colleges be in charge, Javice said. Some schools have lost revenue and are very eager for students right now, “so if you are scared because you thought you could never get into a specific school from an admission criteria standpoint, this is your year to stretch, this is your year to think about the schools that are your reach category and go for it, because schools need the money and need the students. So the power that used to be in an admissions office is in you, the student or the family’s hands,” she said.

She also advises juniors to request application waivers from schools to save the $50 to $100 or so per application that they would normally pay. The schools may say no, but it won’t hurt to ask, she advised. “Persistence is key when dealing with schools,” Javice noted.

Federal Student Loans Payment Suspended

As many families are aware, payments on federal student loans are automatically suspended from March 13 through September 30, 2020 thanks to the government’s CARES Act. This is essential to keep in mind, particularly for families that have multiple children in various stages of the college process.

“You will stop paying your loans and you will have zero interest from now until September 30, and that’s important for parents to know,” Nelson said regarding existing federal student loans. “If you had an auto draft, the auto draft has been shut off and will not continue. You can, however, continue to make those payments if you’d like, and any interest you had before March 13, once that interest is paid up, all your payments will go directly toward your principal.” She advises families with federally-backed loans to check with their loan servicing agents, because they have a lot of information for both parent and student borrowers on how the CARES Act will impact payments for the next six months.

Student Job Gone? Colleges Might Help

For students who expect to earn money via part-time or full-time work to pay for college, but can’t do so due to the coronavirus, colleges may have resources to help. “There are many colleges and universities that have put together emergency grants for students to cover expenses that they were maybe not expecting because of COVID-19,” Nelson said. “They are making accommodations to try and make up for that lost income for students.”

Trusty said Morehead State is continuing to pay students who were on federal work-study. “If they had a job, we are still paying them right now as if they were working, although they are not. In the summer, those funds will be flipped over to emergency grant funds. So we will make sure that our students are covered and can live as if they were employed with the work-study position.”

Some colleges have even made remote work available to students, Kalinkewicz added. Therefore, contact your financial aid office to determine if any accommodations are available to make up for lost student income whenever possible.

Consider Other Options to Save

If you are seeking ways to save money on college, you should also consider other resources, whether that means less expensive colleges, in-state options or potentially transferring down the road, Janice said. You can also save money by taking classes at a community college to pay a lower cost for your credits that can be transferred to a four-year college later.

“If you have that target institution in mind — maybe you’ve already been admitted there but your family has determined a year of community college will really help stretch things further — work on articulation agreements or a plan so you are taking the right classes that actually have the ability to transfer toward the degree you want at your target institution, not necessarily just as credit,” Kalinkewicz said.

In addition, many colleges offer merit aid for transfer students, she added. So always look for every potential financial aid and scholarship resource to best maximize your package and allow your dollars to stretch as far as possible.

Resource: To review the entire hour-long webinar, you can watch the replay here.

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By: Torrey Kim
Title: Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2020 15:22:20 +0000

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