The tough economic climate sent more students to seek financial aid and scholarships at Colorado Mountain College this year, college administrators report. But even with the higher demand, funds to help students pay for a college education have been readily available to applicants.
Gary Lewis, director of financial aid at the college, said his office recorded a 41 percent increase in the number of students completing the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, for the current academic year compared to last year. That's over 700 more FAFSA applications than they had received the previous year.
The FAFSA is used to determine eligibility for need-based financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education uses FAFSA information to calculate how much in grants, loans and work study a student qualifies to receive. For instance, the FAFSA lets a student know if they are eligible for a Federal Pell Grant, which for 2010-11 is up to $5,550 maximum per academic year for full-time students.
Since January 1, across the country prospective college students and their parents have been able to complete the FAFSA paperwork online, by going to www.fafsa.gov. In general, the earlier the FAFSA application is completed, the more funds are available.
However, Lewis noted that students can apply all year for a Pell Grant, which provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate students to promote access to postsecondary education.
In the 2009-10 academic year, the college saw more than a 44 percent increase over the 425 Pell recipients throughout the 2008-09 year.
Not only have FAFSA and Pell applications increased, financial aid counselors are also seeing an uptick in the number of students filling out the college's "dislocated worker" form, Lewis said. This form takes into account the impact of unusual medical expenses or of changes in employment or marital status.
Lewis said a common misconception is that students who do not make the March 15 CMC financial aid deadline or the June 30 Pell Grant deadline are out of luck for financial assistance. In fact, Colorado Mountain College awards financial aid and scholarships all year.
"There is always subsidized or unsubsidized federal loan money for those who qualify. People can apply all year long," Lewis said. "We have state and federal money, and so far we are meeting financial aid demands."
Financial aid at CMC is available to students seeking degrees in one-year certificate or two-year associate degree programs. The college's financial aid office awarded approximately $7 million to some 1,100 students in the 2008-09 academic year.
In addition to getting need-based financial aid through the college's financial aid office, students can apply for more than 90 private scholarships through the CMC Foundation, which awarded $420,000 to 262 students last academic year. This year, the foundation estimates awarding more than $500,000 to approximately 300 students, said Carol Efting, coordinator of foundation scholarship programs. March 15 was the foundation's deadline for scholarship applicants for 2010-11.
"Scholarship requests did increase compared to last year," Efting said. "There are more in-district, traditional-aged students receiving awards this year, which tends to support the theory that students may be staying closer to home."
To find out more about financial aid or scholarships at Colorado Mountain College, call 800-621-8559. Or you can go to www.coloradomtn.edu and click on "New Students," and then "Paying for College."