On a recent winter morning, a local Rim Country father and business owner stopped by the Roundup offices looking for answers on scholarships.
He had heard that the newspaper might have applications to scholarships from the Kiwanis, Rotary, Optimists and other local organizations.
His daughter, a senior who will attend a state university in the fall, said she could not find anyone at the school or from Payson organizations to provide a clear answer as to where, how and when to apply for scholarships. That makes it difficult to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a master application for scholarships. The FAFSA Web site application provides the basic information for dozens of scholarships.
Compounding the stress, this is the first year graduating seniors will not receive full free tuition to one of the three state universities if they have kept up their grade point average and passed their AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) test.
As a result, parents must struggle to fill the gap.
Over the years, that gap has widened significantly.
In 2004, the cost for an Arizona undergraduate to take seven or more credits (a full load) was $2,033 per semester.
By the fall of 2012, the cost for an Arizona resident to take a full load of undergraduate (non-degree program, all campuses) classes, had jumped to $4,862, according to the Arizona State University (ASU) Web site.
And that’s just tuition.
On another ASU Web site worksheet, the university estimates a student this year will spend on average $1,316 on books, $7,308 on a residence hall or rent, and $4,358 on a meal plan and/or groceries for a total of $11,666 in living expenses and books.
Adding all the numbers, the total for the year comes to more than $20,000 — making scholarships critical to students.
But as the Rim Country father and his daughter discovered, it’s not so easy to find financial help. A family has to know the right questions to ask at the right time.
At the Feb. 25 school board meeting, Payson High School (PHS) Principal Anna Van Zile said that unless a parent or a friend of the family has gone through the system, they simply do not know the questions to ask or where to go to find out about resources to help a student and their family pay for college.
“Until I started delving into this, I had no idea what was out there either,” she said to the board.
Van Zile reported that many of the local scholarships go unclaimed.
On a university level, employees in financial aid offices claim that many of their scholarships go unclaimed as well.
Van Zile’s statements about the difficulty of navigating the world of college funding illustrate the challenges facing families who have not gone through the college application process — which the Rim Country father has not.
He is a successful Payson businessman, kind, intelligent with excellent customer service skills, which have helped him to survive in a town that struggles with businesses failing all the time. Yet he did not have to go to college to enter into the business he runs, which as Van Zile admitted, puts him at a disadvantage.
In response, the high school held a seminar for students and their parents on scholarships and funding higher education.
Bonnie Sargeant from Grand Canyon University’s financial department shared suggestions on how and when to apply for university, outside, local and federal scholarships, grants and loans.
Sargeant suggested thinking outside of the box when applying to a college or university.
Institutions offer financial help if a student is willing to be a Resident Advisor or register early for the college.
If a student knows what they wish to study, scholarships are available.
For the arts, students may find help to study theatre, music and dance performance. If a student wishes to pursue a career in education, Schools of Education offer specific scholarships, as do schools of engineering, sciences, journalism or business.
Sargeant suggested asking lots of questions of the institution’s financial department.
She offered one caveat, universities and colleges will not give out more scholarships than it costs a student to attend. But that can include numerous fees for room and board, labs, activities, technology fees and books.
“Make sure to ask for all the fees,” said Sargeant.
Another avenue to scholarships are businesses and foundations.
“Some of these are fun,” said Sargeant, “Like recipes for JIF peanut butter and Duct Tape uses.”
Three Web sites Sargeant suggested to find out about possible business or foundation scholarships were:
But, she suggested opening up an alternative email address to receive the overwhelming amount of information these sites distribute.
“Create a password both you and your student can share so both of you can access the site,” said Sargeant.
Most of the deadlines for scholarships happen in the early months of the year, January, February and March, to accommodate students starting in the fall.
Sargeant urged parents to read the fine print on scholarships.
“Look to see, is there a minimum GPA they have to keep up?”
Some students do not realize they must keep up their grades until it is too late to make up the difference. Sargeant said she has seen students devastated when the money stops coming because they did not understand the requirements.
Another limitation applicants find is that most scholarships require the student to be a senior.
Sargeant said a student is considered a senior as soon as they finish their junior year.
“Your student can start applying for scholarships the summer before they start their senior year,” said Sargeant.
She also said the government considers students dependent on parents until they turn 24, get married or become independent.
For local scholarships, Sargeant suggested contacting local service organizations in town such as the Rotary, Optimists, Kiwanis, Elks, Moose, etc.
Many scholarships rely on the FAFSA to determine how much help a student needs.
The online application requires Federal tax returns, household size, savings, gross income, the cost to attend the university of choice, plus enough information to require a good hour or two of time to complete.
Based on that information, the federal FAFSA Web site and applications process calculates what the family expected contribution will be. This year, Sargeant said if a household made less than $24,000, the Federal government would not expect any contributions from the family.
Sargeant flashed the FAFSA Web site on the wall and walked through some of the requirements to fill out the application. The audience groaned when they saw all the information required and the pages to fill in.
“Just pour yourself a cup of coffee and work through it,” said Sargeant.