Finding the Funds
Paying for college can be a challenge for most families under the best of circumstances. When the joy of acceptance letters is tempered by an economy in crisis, the challenge is multiplied.
A survey completed in late 2008 by MeritAid.com found that:
• 16 percent of students said they were putting their college searches on hold because they didn’t think their families could afford college.
• 57 percent said they were going to consider less prestigious colleges due to affordability.
• 85 percent said they were spending more time searching for scholarship and merit aid money to help pay for tuition, and just more than half said they were depending on financial aid.
• 48 percent said they were concerned more than ever about being able to afford college at all.
In North Carolina, college-bound students and their families have the resources of the College Foundation of North Carolina to assist them in their college planning as well as in their search for money to help pay for higher education. CFNC is a free service of the State of North Carolina provided by Pathways, College Foundation, Inc. and the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority.
Here are some tips from CFNC for those looking for help funding college:
North Carolina has $600 million a year to help students pay for college.
The College Foundation’s Web site, www.cfnc.org, can be a crucial first stop in the search for scholarships, descriptions of numerous scholarship and grants, and applications for special programs. Students wondering whether they qualify for aid based on family income can find out by using North Carolina’s Financial Aid Estimator found there.
More than $250 million of the North Carolina money to help students pay for college is available based on need. For any of these need-based state programs and for federal programs, students are automatically considered by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is available through a link on the foundation’s Web site or at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Need-based scholarships and grants.
There are several major need-based state financial aid programs that students may qualify for by simply filling out a FAFSA form.
The EARN program was established in 2007 by the General Assembly to provide grants to eligible students at both community colleges and public universities and help them avoid taking out student loans during their first two years of higher education. The maximum grant for a student is $4,000 per academic year. The EARN grant plus other financial aid cannot exceed the cost of attendance established by each college or university.
North Carolina’s Education Lottery Scholarship was created by the 2005 General Assembly to provide financial assistance to needy North Carolina residents who attend colleges located in the state. These grants can vary from $100 to $2,500 per year.
Students who enroll for at least six hours credit at a state community college may be eligible for the N.C. Community College Grant. The amount available varies based on income reported on the FAFSA.
The University of North Carolina Need-Based Grant is available for eligible students attending one of the 16 campuses in the UNC system. Award amounts vary based on legislative appropriations. And the State Contractual Scholarship Fund provides financial assistance for students attending private and independent colleges.
Merit-Based and Vocational-Based Scholarships
In addition, North Carolina has scholarship-loan programs for students preparing for certain in-demand professions, such as teachers, principals, nurses and nurse educators. These programs are generally free for students who work in North Carolina for a certain number of years after graduation.
There are numerous merit-based scholarships that are available individually with information on the foundation’s Web site, through some of the sites listed in the sidebar, as well as through online searches for additional funding sources.
Never pay for scholarship searches or help with FAFSA.
Students may receive misleading financial aid offers in the mail, over the Internet, even in newspapers and magazines. Organizations that sound legitimate claim they can help locate more scholarships, grants and loans for college, then charge a fee to do it. Students should never give out their Social Security number or other personal information unless they know the offer is legitimate.
In addition, an applicant should never have to pay for information about financial aid, to fill out a FASFA or to receive financial aid. Free help is available through CFNC or through a college financial aid administrator.
CFNC Can Help in Other Ways.
Those who do not qualify for need-based grants or scholarships or who need additional money to cover the cost of attending college can apply for low-interest, federally guaranteed student loans available to students or parents.
Families with more lead time before sending a student to college can consider setting up a 529 college savings program through the NC 529 plan. Parents, grandparents and friends of future college students can make contributions to these plans and take advantage of their reasonable expenses, state tax deduction and tax-free earnings. Information on both is available at the CFNC Web site.
And for those times when contact needs to extend beyond a computer, the foundation offers a call center at 1-866-866-CFNC that has answered more than one million calls since 2000. Staff members at CFNC answer more than 600 calls per day, and help with questions about planning, applying and paying for college, as well.